Byron Dorgan Not Running for Re-Election

byron-dorganIn a surprising development, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan has announced that he will not seek a fourth term.

I have been serving as an elected official in our state for many years. Beginning at age 26, I served ten years as State Tax Commissioner followed by thirty years in the U.S. Congress by the end of 2010. It has been a long and wonderful career made possible by the people of North Dakota. And I am forever grateful to them for the opportunity.

Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life. I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.

So, over this holiday season, I have come to the conclusion, with the support of my family, that I will not be seeking another term in the U.S. Senate in 2010. It is a hard decision to make after thirty years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue these other interests.

Dorgan’s 67 years old, an age where most Americans retire from full-time employment.  But that’s young for a United States Senator.   And, frankly, interest in reading his books — likely already quite low — will plummet once he no longer has any official power.   One can’t help but speculate that recent polls showing him trailing Republican Governor John Hoeven by 19 to 22 points wasn’t a contributing factor in this decision.

This news, combined with Chris Dodd’s dropping out within 24 hours, has people buzzing.  ABC’s The Note has a post titled “Democrats are Dropping Like Flies.”

But, as Chris Cillizza notes, these defections are likely bad news for Republicans.  Alternative candidates without the baggage of Dorgan and Dodd will give the Democrats a much better chance of retaining those seats.  Oh, and while two Dems have just created open seats, “Six Republicans Senators are not seeking re-election in November [emphasis mine].”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dantheman says:


    Thanks for the evenhanded analysis on this (especially noting that more R’s than D’s havbe chosen not to run, which is also true at the House and Governor levels).

    Dodd’s retirement looks to be wholly good news for the D’s, as a seat which was among the most endangered in an expensive media market suddenly looks like it will be an easy hold.

    On the other hand, I had not heard any negative baggage on Dorgan, and the liberal blogs are saying this is entirely bad news, as the only Democrat with any chance of winning the seat against Hoeven (Rep. Pomeroy) is unlikely to give up a fairly safe House seat to come in as the underdog for the Senate.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    I can’t help but think having a (D) behind your name in the general election will be plenty of baggage. The unabashed shift to the left by Dems has painted the entire party as Obama/Pelosi/Reid clones. We’ll see but a lot of people are angry. The Republicans didn’t deliver while in power but the Democrats are delivering something we don’t want.

  3. just me says:

    I am positive Dodd stepping aside and retiring means the democratic seat in CT will be safe, unless the candidate that runs ends up with some unknown skeleton that can’t be ignored by the electorate comes to light when it is too late.

    Not sure it saves the South Dakota seat, since SD is probably a more reddish purple than blueish purple. And it sounds like Hoeven is pretty popular so there may not be anything the democrats can do to keep that one.

  4. hpb says:

    South Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan

    As a North Dakota native, I always find it annoying when people mix up North and South Dakota.

  5. Dantheman says:

    I tend to agree with just me when he says, “And it sounds like Hoeven is pretty popular so there may not be anything the democrats can do to keep that one.”

    On the other hand, the rumor is that Ed Schultz is trying to increase the number of former liberal talk show hosts in the Senate to two.

    On the third hand, Steve Plunk sounds like he’s been indulging in too much plonk to even notice that our host mentioned that “Alternative candidates without the baggage of Dorgan and Dodd will give the Democrats a much better chance of retaining those seats”, firmly contradicting his talking points posing as analysis.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    Dantheman, it’s becoming tiresome to hear complaints of ‘talking points’ when merely giving out one’s individual opinion. For the record, I have no ‘talking points’ nor do I have any handlers to direct my message.

    My point stands. The health care bill could very well be an albatross around the neck of every Dem whether they had a hand in it or not. The public is overwhelmingly against it and the fact the Dems are pushing forward knowing the public is unhappy makes them look worse. Being part of such a party could doom many. James Joyner made a very good point but I see the baggage being associated with the party as well as the individual candidate.

  7. just me says:

    The health care bill could very well be an albatross around the neck of every Dem whether they had a hand in it or not.

    As much as I think the current healthcare bill is a piece of complete and total crap, I am not so convinced it will be any kind of albatross. In the end i suspect the short memories of the electorate will forget about the health care bill-especially since the things doesn’t really do anything for several years.

    I do think the healthcare bill can be an albatross, if the democratic congress combined with Obama doesn’t do much other than pass tarp and stimulus and if the employment situation is still poor. I don’t think healthcare alone will sink anyone besides a few blue dogs who are in danger anyway. I do think the economy and lack or what looks like real leadership could combine to create an anti D sentiment which may result in D’s losing-but I don’t think we are there yet-at least not to the point where the R’s get to take over either house of congress.

  8. Dantheman says:


    If you don’t want to be accused of using talking points, try saying something different than what every Republican on the talk shows are saying.

    Since the polls I’ve seen show that the unpopularity of the health care bill is about equally a function of those who oppose it being watered down and those who oppose any attempt to reform the health insurance system, running against it will expose Republican candidates who call for its repeal as supporting a continuation of the current system, something a very small minority support.

    If the D’s are smart, they will make them appear as supporters of rescission of insurance policies when needed, of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, of supporters of lifetime caps on coverage, and of all the myriad problems with our current health insurance system which are corrected in the health care bills.

  9. Errr. Dorgan is from North, not South Dakota.

    And the Democrats simply cannot find another guy to retain that seat.

  10. Richard Gardner says:

    An interesting side issue to this is who will take over Chairmanship of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (currently Dorgan). The Hill is suggesting Maria Cantwell (D-WA). In the West the Indian Casino money (and set-aside contracts) is a major factor in many elections (with common accusations of corruption). Dorgan is the lead at Indian Country TodayDorgan Shocks with Retirement.