With Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) retiring, Republicans already have a top-tier candidate lined up to enter the race soon: Gov. John Hoeven, who was elected to a third term in 2008 with 74% of the vote.
State GOP chairman Gary Emineth told Politico
: "I expect Gov. Hoeven to get in, and he's going to work through personal issues relating to his family, but I would be shocked if he's not in the Senate race soon."
North Dakota GOP political director Adam Jones explained to me that the family issues referred to here were simply a matter of Hoeven talking to his family about the prospect of a Senate run and a move to Washington. "First and foremost, the governor is a father and husband before he's a public servant," said Jones. "First he has to decide what's good for his family."
I asked Jones if he thought there was any significant chance that Hoeven wouldn't make the race. His response: "No, absolutely not."
Potential Democratic candidates include Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who has been elected statewide to North Dakota's single House seat since 1992, and even MSNBC liberal talk show host Ed Schultz.
Even before Dorgan announced his retirement, a Rasmussen poll in December suggested that Hoeven would have defeated Dorgan in a possible match-up, while Dorgan would have beaten a different GOP candidate. So Hoeven definitely begins the general election race as the frontrunner.