Importance of Dodd, Dorgan Democratic Retirements Overstated

A shift? Sure, but not a seismic one.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The recent retirement announcements by Sens. Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan have prompted a flurry of "the sky is falling on the Democrats" articles that go something like this: Veteran Dems retire, the party is in freefall. There's some truth here, but the narrative is also overblown.

Here's the truth: Dorgan's retirement, which apparently blindsided his colleagues, is a real blow for the Democrats. The Cook Report moved that race from safely in Democratic hands to leaning Republican. If uber-popular Gov. John Hoeven gets in the race, it would be very hard for Democrats to hold the seat. But here's where the narrative gets overblown: All retirements are not created equal, and Dodd's is actually pretty good news for Democrats. As Cook's Jennifer Duffy writes, "What the political gods giveth, they taketh away. ... At first blush [Dodd's retirement] would seem to be another blow to the Democrats, but the reality is that Democrats are now in a much better position to hold the seat."

Cook, by the way, moved Connecticut race from lean Republican back to the toss-up category. So the map did shift in favor of the GOP, but not to the extent you would believe from some of the commentary.

MSNBC's First Read has a good take on the developments:

*** Has the Senate map really changed? In the aftermath of the Democratic retirements, it’s also important to emphasize that the overall Senate map hasn’t changed. Yes, Republicans now have an excellent pick-up opportunity in North Dakota, but their chances in Connecticut have greatly diminished with Dodd’s retirement and Blumenthal’s entry. So you’re essentially trading North Dakota for Connecticut. Still, Republicans have many more pieces on the chessboard than they did early this year. As we wrote yesterday, Republicans have good pick-up opportunities in at least eight states if you’re counting Connecticut and seven if you’re not. And remember: Competitive senate races rarely split, say 55%-45%, between the two parties on Election Day. It's amazing how all the close races break in the same direction. Check out the competitive races from the last five cycles. It's a remarkable pattern.

Now, if Dorgan and Dodd spur a stream of departing Democrats it will prove a real problem. But let's wait for the pattern to actually develop before pronouncing judgment on it.

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