Dorgan, Dodd Retirements Are a Very Big Deal

There are no silver linings—the Obama coattails are in shreds.


By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

"If Dorgan and Dodd spur a stream of Democrats, it will prove a real problem. But let's wait for the pattern to develop before pronouncing judgment on it," Robert Schlesinger wrote earlier today on the issue of Democratic retirements. Dorgan and Dodd, however, are already a part of a stream of Democratic retirements.

As I wrote last month, Democratic retirements in the House of Representatives have already created a problem for the Democratic Party. When Bart Gordon, chairman of the House Committee of Science and Technology, announced he was stepping down, he was following several others, including Reps. Brian Baird, Dennis Moore, and Gordon's Tennessee colleague, John Tanner. Add to that the defection of Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith, who last month joined the Republicans, and you've got your stream.

Trying to salvage whatever silver lining they can, Democrats note the Cook Political Report moving the Connecticut Senate race from "lean Republican" to a "toss-up." No doubt that's the case, but to say Republicans were surprised or deeply disappointed by Dodd's retirement is akin to suggesting a Washington Nationals fan is bitterly angry after another loss. One can't really be disappointed in an outcome one fully expects.

Let's not forget, there was a third Democratic retirement, this week. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter joined the stream by announcing he would not run for re-election. There was initial speculation that Ritter's retirement would open the way for former State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to abandon his primary bid against the struggling Democratic incumbent, Sen. Michael Bennet. Instead, Romanoff is staying put.

False silver lining No. 2 from Democrats: that the larger number of Republican retirements gives the Democrats an advantage. In reality, it doesn't matter that someone retires, it matters who retires—of the 14 House Republican retirements, only three result in races rated as competitive by the Cook Political Report. For Democrats, the numbers flip; for 8 of the 10 Democratic retirements come from districts Cook cites as competitive.

In a statement following Dodd's retirement, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Dodd, Dorgan, and Ritter retirements demonstrated that President Obama's coattails have "vanished." That's true.

As Charlie Cook himself has noted, the Democrats' troubles are "part of a larger trend. In less than one year, Democrats squandered all gains they achieved in the previous three years." Indeed, does anyone reasonably expect that if Barack Obama's approval rating were still at 65 percent, and his numbers were not in a free fall with independents, that we'd see so many Democrats giving up the ship?

Last month, I wrote that if more Democrats were to retire, "it will be because they know something we don't; their own internal poll numbers."

Now we know.

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