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Exits of two senior senators mostly bad news for Democrats

Retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan means it will be harder for Democrats to keep their filibuster-proof Senate majority after 2010. But the exit of Sen. Christopher Dodd improves Democrats' chances of holding onto his seat.

By Staff writer / January 6, 2010

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn, announces that he will retire after his current term outside his home in East Haddam, Conn., Wednesday.

Charles Krupa/AP

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Washington

Within a matter of hours, the Democrats have seen three key figures – two in Washington, one outside – turn themselves into lame ducks. Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Gov. Bill Ritter of Colorado, have all announced they’re not running for reelection.

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That’s mostly bad news for the Democrats, who just a year ago were riding high on the impending inauguration of Barack Obama and greatly expanded majorities in both houses of Congress. Now, the atmosphere has altered dramatically, as President Obama struggles to keep his job approval at or near 50 percent and his party works to minimize its losses in congressional races this November. Democrats can probably kiss their 60-seat, filibuster-proof Senate majority goodbye.

The one bright spot for Democrats is that Senator Dodd’s seat in Connecticut now has an excellent shot at staying in Democratic hands, with the expected announcement Wednesday of popular state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) that he will run for the seat. Until his announcement, Dodd was the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent of the cycle, owing to perceptions that he had lost touch with his home state. But as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Dodd will now spend the next year as a lame duck, which could hurt his clout in the battle for financial regulation reform.

The surprise announcement by Governor Ritter of Colorado does not directly affect the Senate, of course, but it does add to the sense that the Democrats are in retreat – especially in a part of the country, the Mountain West, where the party had made dramatic inroads in recent years. Senator Dorgan, a Democratic stalwart in a red state, also caught his party by surprise in deciding to retire. Dorgan, a three-term senator with a total of 40 years in public service, comes from the old school that believes in working across the aisle. His seat is now in the “lean Republican” column in the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Obama's role in raiding the Senate

All in all, says Jennifer Duffy, the Senate and statehouse watcher at Cook Political, it’s been a crazy year, politically. Obama himself is partly to blame, as he raided the Senate for Cabinet picks, not to mention the fact that his own former Senate seat and that of Vice President Joe Biden could go Republican in November.

“The cycle started with us asking, ‘How many more seats can the Democrats actually pick up?’ to a point where, now all we talk about is how many seats they’re going to lose,” says Ms. Duffy. “You’ve seen this big shift in the political environment and seats that were only a little bit vulnerable becoming more vulnerable, like Colorado.”

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