With unemployment hovering around 10%, it looks likely the Democrats could lose a substantial number of seats in the 2010 midterms. In fact, the economic climate already seems to have claimed its first casualties, with two longtime Democratic senators announcing yesterday that they would not seek reelection.
It started when Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announced that he would not run in the fall. Dorgan, a three-term senator who has been in Congress since 1980, has won most of his elections handily. But the possibility of a challenge from North Dakota's popular Republican governor John Hoeven—who with the Dorgan retiring now seems even more likely to run—made it look like he would face a difficult race in the fall. Nate Silver calls Dorgan's retirement "unspinnably bad news" for the Democrats, both because Dorgan was much more reliably progressive than you would expect a North Dakota senator to be, and because it now seems very likely the Democrats will lose his seat in the fall. The one bright side for the Democrats, as Climate Progress suggests, is that now that Dorgan no longer has to worry about getting reelected he might be more likely to vote for things like the climate bill.
A few hours later, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) announced that he too would not be seeking reelection. While the news that Dodd—a very influential five-term Senator and a former chair of the Democratic National Committee—was retiring was a bombshell, it may actually improve the Democrats' chances of holding his seat. Dodd, who has been dogged by controversies over a loan he received from Countrywide Financial and over his role in allowing AIG to use public money to pay executives large "retention" bonuses, was trailing both of his likely Republican opponents in recent polling. Privately, party officials were apparently hoping Dodd would step aside so that the state's popular attorney general Richard Blumenthal could run.
Taken together, the two retirements probably don't really hurt the Democrats' chances in the fall. If the Democrats are more likely to lose in North Dakota, they are more likely to win in Connecticut. But it does say something about the pressures incumbent Democrats are facing. Coupled with the news that another key Democrat, Colorado governor Bill Ritter, would also step down rather than face a tough election, and the recent defection of Democratic Rep. Parker Griffith to the Republican party, these retirements are a sign that the prospect of November's election is already weighing hard on Democrats.
Things, of course, are tough for incumbents of both parties. Six Republican senators—Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jim Bunning (R-KY), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Mel Martinez (R-FL), and George Voinovich—have also announced they will not in the fall (Martinez has already stepped down). The fact is that a great deal is at stake this November, and, as Nate Silver argues, both parties have reason to feel vulnerable. The poor economy puts particular pressure on the Democrats, and it seems likely they will lose seats in both houses of Congress. The Republicans may even have an outside shot at regaining control of the Senate. But it is also not out of the question that the Democrats could pad their sixty seat majority in the Senate, especially if the economy starts to add jobs again.