Ripping Off The Band-Aid: A Flood Of Democrats Announce Retirements

After three high-profile retirements sent the political world spinning, Democrats are saying the morning after they don’t expect any more in the Senate or among the governors.

Worried Democrats who are seeing poll numbers slip nationally wanted to start 2010 with the best chance they could for keeping the House, 60 Senate seats and the majority of governorships.

Surveying the political landscape, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) were among the most vulnerable, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s retirement could prevent a divisive Democratic primary for the senate.Sen. Michael Bennet, appointed to fill Sen. Ken Salazar’s seat when he joined President’s Obama Cabinet, is facing a stiff primary challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Democrats hope Romanoff turns to the governor’s race instead to make things easier for Bennet, endorsed by Obama. There also are a few other strong contenders – Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper among them.

Senate sources tell TPMDC this is it for retirements in their chamber – the Dorgan news coming as a complete surprise and Dodd’s decision welcomed by party boosters who think Democrats are now more likely to be able to hang on to his seat.

But unless the Democrats pick up an open Republican seat this fall, their 60-seat majority is likely to be gone come January 2011 since North Dakota will be a tough race in a red state.

Democrats reeling from the prospect of losing Dorgan’s seat to a Republican yesterday were actually cheered up by the news in Connecticut, thinking that a better candidate will be an easy win.

A source familiar with governors races across the country told TPMDC there aren’t any more expected retirements – that they know about.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen said on ABC’s Top Line today that a “couple more” retirements are likely in the House, a talking point he’s used several times recently.

The retirees and their allies are saying they made their decisions independently and weren’t pressured by the national parties or the Obama White House, which has gotten involved in a handful of races this year.

A Democrat familiar with the landscape said the recent news – and word that Michigan Lt. Gov John Cherry is stepping aside for someone with better chance at winning the governorship – is a net win because it allows the party to start 2010 with the strongest field of candidates possible.

“It adds up to more opportunities for us,” the well-placed Democrat said.

The Democrat used outgoing New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine as an example – his polling was dismal and he was never able to overcome that, losing his reelection bid to Republican Chris Christie.

Dorgan, Dodd and Ritter each were facing low approval ratings, and John Cherry in Michigan was down by double digits in the polls.

Dorgan will speak about his decision tonight on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show.” Ritter is expected to make an announcement today. Dodd is speaking at noon.

Dodd was facing an uphill struggle to keep his seat and also has had a tough year. He battled cancer, saw his best friend Ted Kennedy die this summer, and his sister also passed away.

It was two years ago this week Dodd ended his short presidential bid after a dismal fifth place finish in the Iowa caucus. The 2008 run hurt Dodd with his constituents in Connecticut, since he moved his family to Iowa for the fall before the caucus and enrolled the older of his two young daughters in school there.

Sources told us that Dodd’s internal polls showed he would have a tough race, and he is chairman of the Financial Services Committee at a time when Wall Street is becoming increasingly unpopular.

The White House invested significant time and resources in helping him raise money for reelection, and President Obama considers him a personal friend.

Late Update: Democrats involved in the Dodd campaign tell CNN the party was convinced his race was “virtually unwinnable.”

Additional reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro.