Dorgan: Jumping Before He’s Pushed?

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.

The Politico:

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?

17 thoughts on “Dorgan: Jumping Before He’s Pushed?

  1. Pingback: The Greenroom » Forum Archive » Dorgan: Jumping Before He’s Pushed?

  2. Mitch, It’s sounding like the will he run question has been resolved:

    North Dakota Republican party chairman Gary Emineth told POLITICO that he spoke with Hoeven’s senior staff soon after learning of Dorgan’s retirement, and they informed him that Hoeven is preparing to jump in the Senate race once he deals with family issues back home.

    “I expect Gov. Hoeven to get in, and he’s going to work through personal issues relating to his family, but I would be shocked if he’s not in the Senate race soon,” Emineth said. “He’s been showing signs of running and getting things cued up in preparation for a decision. It’s inevitable, and the decision by Dorgan showed he was expecting Governor Hoeven to get into the race.”

    I wrote about the trio of Democratic ‘retirements’ in this post.

  3. Mitch said: “In a just world, he’d be a presidential candidate; he’s one of the most accomplished governors anywhere.”

    “I can see Saskatchewan from my house!”

  4. Clown,

    Have you been to North Dakota?

    I could see Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Minnesota from mine.

  5. Mitch said: ” I was born in Rugby”. You would think a pregnant woman would have more sense than to be playing a game like that, but then it is NoDak.

  6. Also, the soon-to-be EX-senator from ND will have a high paying lobbying job soon. Much better gig then Senator.

  7. Those who keep track of these sorts of things may want to focus on Indiana. Evan Bayh can be defeated and some high powered Republicans are looking to jump in the race. Bayh’s seat has not been one normally rumored to be vulnerable – but take it from this transplanted Hoosier, it is.

  8. “I could see Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Minnesota from mine.”

    Yeah, but from that neck of the woods, how can you tell which is which?

    More and more I’m starting to think that these “retirements” are self-served (not in a bad way, mind you). The possibility had occured to me that it may be part of a Demcratic strategy to retain the house: get some new blood that can distance themselves from existing unpopular ideas. But what are the noobs going to say? “I wouldn’t have voted for health care reform?” Not only would that kill them in the primary, but it would oppose the party message. That’s not to say that they won’t, but I think it shows that this is not an organized strategy from the DNC. So it will be interested to see what types of candidates come out of the woodwork to represent the future of the Democratic Party. Since their organization will be lacking, their success will depend on the GOP’s ability to refocus their own message without losing votes to TEA Party challengers.

  9. Wow, hadn’t heard that news. That’s almost an earthquake when it comes to NoDak politics. As with you, Dorgan has been a fixture for almost as long as I’ve been aware of NoDak politicians.

    It’s always seems a bit funny that NoDak is a fairly reliable Republican vote for President, but has been exclusively sending Dems to Congress for some time now.

    There is a bit of a socialist streak in the state, (NoDak has a state owned bank and mill, after all), but like you say, with so much of the state economy based on agriculture, and a population that’s a little older than the nation on average (how many kids like us are outside the state?), I suppose it’s not surprising that when it comes to the body that controls the purse strings, a majority votes for the party of vote buying, I mean, pork, I mean, compassion.

  10. Apathyboy asked: “Yeah, but from that neck of the woods, how can you tell which is which?”

    Canada’s where those benighted masses labor under the yoke of Socialist free medical care.

  11. With Chris Dodd announcing his retirement, that 60 seat majority is looking pretty shakey. We can only hope Nevada does us all a favor and sends Harry Reid into a long overdue retirement.

  12. Apathy Boy wrote:

    “I could see Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Minnesota from mine.”

    Yeah, but from that neck of the woods, how can you tell which is which?

    I don’t even know why they bothered to give them different names.

  13. More and more I’m starting to think that these “retirements” are self-served (not in a bad way, mind you).

    Along those same lines, we’re all familiar with the typical old line “Senator So-and-so is retiring at the end of this term to spend more time with his family”. I never thought twice about that remark until I read one of Brad Thor’s novels. In it, he had a power female rep/senator who reminded me a lot of Ms Pelosi, and got caught in an FBI sting exchanging adult services with one of her interns/pages for incriminating (but untrue) evidence against the protagonist of the book. When she was marched back to the leadership offices, and informed that she was retiring or she would be arrested and tried, she said “What, are we going to use the usual “wants to spend more time with her family” bit?”

    Every time I hear that line now, I have to wonder in the back of my head “what are they wiggling out from under?”

  14. Dorgan may well have had fears about the upcoming Cap & Trade B.S. Coal power is probably only second to Ag in revenue and jobs for ND (oil boom aside). Could it be he wasn’t looking forward to the blackmail and extortion that Reid’s become famous for?

  15. Clown- “benighted masses labor under the yoke of socialist free medical care.” Except for the free part, your`re right, for once, clown.

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