Senate Indian Affairs Chairman Dorgan retires

Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota

In somewhat of a shocking development, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2010.  Dorgan has chaired the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs since 2007 and is also the Chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee

Dorgan first ran for North Dakota’s sole House seat in 1974 but lost.  Dorgan rebounded 6 years later to win election as ND’s Congressional Representative, a seat he held from 1980 to 1992 when he successfully ran for Senator.  Dorgan has served as a ND Senator since 1992.

Dorgan has championed a number of major Native American issues as Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee including health care for native americans, sovereignty, economic development, and domestic violence.  Dorgan twice sponsored the American Indian Health Care Improvement Act in the Senate.

Dorgan has enjoyed close relationship with the five tribes in North Dakota.

His retirement may have something to do with his bad polling of recent.  North Dakota and South Dakota are something of a political anomaly.  While both states are overwhelmingly Republican and voted for President Bush (and John McCain) by large margins, three of the four Senators and both Congressmen are Democrats.  Obama’s popularity, which was never that high to begin with, in North Dakota has severely dwindled and over 60% of state opposes health care reform which Senator Dorgan has supported.

The most recent Zogby and Rasmussen polls have Dorgan trailing the current North Dakota Governor John Hoeven by 22 and 19 points respectively.  There is little in terms of undecided votes out for grabs (6% and 9% respectively) so the odds for Dorgan would be daunting if Hoeven decides to jump in. 

Should Hoeven jump in the Senate race, that could trigger a bid for the Governor’s mansion by current Democratic Representive Earl Pomeroy who has held his seat since 1992 and has been winning by wider margins recently.  The question for Pomeroy is where does Hoeven go — Senate or stay in the Governor’s mansion in 2010 — and whether he wants a heads up challenge, run for the vacant seat, or stay in the House.

North Dakota’s filing deadline for the 2010 Primary is not until April 9th, so the field has lots of time to sort itself out.

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