I grew up in North Dakota; I was born in Rugby, and grew up and graduated from high school and college in Jamestown. I was 19 before I saw a city bigger than Fargo. The place is still a huge part of me.
And for my entire cognitive life, Byron Dorgan’s been in politics. He was appointed Tax Commissioner when I was five years old, at age 26; he was elected to the House, succeeding Mark Andrews, when I was a senior in high school in 1980. He was elected to the Senate 18 years ago. He’s been a politician virtually his entire adult life – and much more than mine.
As you’ve no doubt heard, Dorgan’s not running for re-election:
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced this evening that he’s retiring at the end of his term, a shocking development that threatens Democratic control of his Senate seat next year.
Dorgan was up for re-election in 2010, but the third-term senator wasn’t facing any strong Republican opposition– but was facing the growing possibility of a serious challenge from popular Gov. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
Cassy Fiano, writing at the Greenroom, echoes a common mistake among those who don’t follow NoDak politics:
The Democrats are dropping like flies, and this gives the GOP just one more potential opening. North Dakota was won by John McCain in the election last year, and it’s entirely possible that Dorgan would had been defeated anyways.
Well, perhaps – but Mac had nothing to do with it. North Dakota has voted Republican in virtually every election since statehood – but Dorgan went to the house in 1980, not only succeeding a popular Republican (Mark Andrews, who went to the Senate), but bucking the Reagan tide in one of the reddest states there is. He survived the Gingrich revolution quite handily.
The reason? Like many farm states, which are mostly famously conservative, North Dakota is addicted to pork. The various federal Farm Bills are the staff of life – at least politicially. And Byron Dorgan brought home the pork for a generation. Not “dumb pork” – none of the Ben-Nelson-style legal graft. Just lots and lots of farm bill subsidies.
And so a generation of North Dakota farmers has voted for Republicans – even Nixon and Dole – while sending Dorgan (and his successor as Tax Commissioner, Kent Conrad, and Earl Pomeroy – all of them porkocrats) to Washington to keep the swag coming. And time is money in Washington; Dorgan’s seniority made him one of the most powerful men in the city.
But this year is different.
A recent Rasmussen poll showed him losing to Republican Governor John Hoeven, 58% – 36%. This would’ve scared the pants off of Dorgan… especially considering that Hoeven hasn’t even said that he’s going to run yet.
And the biggest question of this election isn’t “how big will Hoeven’s margin be”; it’s “will he run?” Hoeven’s been a very successful governor; North Dakota is one of four states to have no budget deficit last year; North Dakota’s schools’ results are as good as or better than Minnesota’s, for vastly less money per student; the state rode out the recession in some style, and not entirely because of the oil boom. In a just world, he’d be a presidential candidate; he’s one of the most accomplished governors anywhere.
But he’s been reticent so far about committing to run for higher office. That’ll be the big question.
In his statement, Dorgan said his retirement was borne out of the desire to spend more time with his family.
And Beria died of a cold.
Democratic Senate campaign officials only found out about Dorgan’s decision within the last 24 hours. Dorgan began calling Senate leaders on Tuesday afternoon to inform them of his decision to retire, according to Senate insiders.
He had previously given no sign that he wasn’t going to run for re-election or was even considering retirement and had been raising money for his 2010 campaign.
Could it be that Dorgan finally found a third rail even he couldn’t jump over?
Obamacare is a famously unhealthy product to push in North Dakota, whose population veers between a fairly elderly population outstate who stand to take a huge hit on healthcare with the demotion of Medicare, and a fairly young population in high-tech and university-dominated Fargo and Grand Forks.
Could it be that the rabid partisanship of the Pelosi/Reid Axis has led a Democrat two key Democrats (along with Senator Dodd) to jump before they get impaled?