Kent Conrad Bows Out

Democrat Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota announced his intention to retire on Tuesday, after serving the remainder of a term that ends in 2012.  You’ll be relieved to know Conrad made this decision so he could spend all his time balancing our national budget and breaking our addiction to foreign oil.

No, seriously, he said that.  His letter to constituents reads: “After months of consideration, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2012.  There are serious challenges facing our state and nation, like a $14 trillion debt and America’s dependence on foreign oil.  It is more important I spend my time and energy trying to solve these problems than to be distracted by a campaign for reelection.”  It would appear one of the reasons we’re drowning in debt is that we keep distracting our noble ruling class by forcing them to run for re-election.  Term limits would solve that problem.  Just a thought.

I guess I can cut Conrad a little slack on his retirement letter, since no representative from either party is really in a position to congratulate himself for a job well done, and ride off into the sunset with the Indiana Jones theme playing in the background.  The Washington Post report on Conrad’s retirement looks at some of his recent moves, like remaining on the Senate Budget Committee when he could have chaired Agriculture to please his constituents, and concludes he’s been leaning against another re-election campaign for a while now.

North Dakota will become a hotly contested Senate race, because both sides think they’ve got a shot at the seat, and there’s no obvious knockout candidate.  Nationally, Republicans are defending 10 seats in 2012, while the Democrats are defending 23.  That looks pretty good for the Republicans, but of course it’s also a presidential election year, which will add a strong element of volatility.  A wave of retirements and defections would build crushing momentum against a demoralized Democrat caucus. 

Incumbency carries such huge advantages that each lost incumbent will cause sleepless nights for Democrat strategists.  North Dakota went for McCain over Obama, 53%-43%, in the last presidential election, and its voters gave George Bush 30-point margins in both 2000 and 2004.  The other North Dakota Senate seat went to Republican John Hoeven in the midterm elections, after Democrat Byron Dorgan retired.  Kent Conrad’s retirement takes out an incumbent with a solid history of electoral victory, in a state that looks like it will be very friendly territory for a good Republican candidate.