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N.D.'s Sen. Dorgan won't run for re-election in 2010

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Dorgan's decision
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has decided against seeking re-election for his Senate seat.

Sen. Byron Dorgan stunned North Dakota on Tuesday with a surprise late-afternoon announcement that he will not run for re-election.

The announcement means the end of more than 30 years in political office for Dorgan, a Democrat, and puts more pressure on Gov. John Hoeven to seek the Republican nomination for the seat.

Republicans have been encouraging Hoeven to run for the Senate since last summer, going so far as to ask him to make a decision by Labor Day. Hoeven has declined to announce his intentions, saying campaigns are too long already.

Political commentators had been predicting a potential race pitting Dorgan versus the popular three-term governor would be a tight one.

Hoeven said Tuesday night that he would announce his plans in the coming weeks.

“We’re looking at it very seriously, which people know,” Hoeven said. “I expect we’ll make an announcement in the next couple of weeks.”

Dorgan, who served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, made the announcement Tuesday in a statement. Brenden Timpe, a spokesman for Dorgan, said the senator was not available Tuesday night for comment beyond what was in the statement.

In the statement, Dorgan, 67, said he decided over the holiday season not to run again in order to pursue other interests. He has an “invitation” to write two books. He already has authored two books: “Reckless!: How Debt, Deregulation, and Dark Money Nearly Bankrupted America (And How We Can Fix It!)” and “Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America.”

“For the past year, I have been making plans to seek another six-year Senate term in next year’s election. Those plans included raising campaign funds and doing the organizing necessary to wage a successful campaign,” the statement said. “Even as I have done that, in recent months I began to wrestle with the question of whether making a commitment to serve in the Senate seven more years (next year plus a new six-year term) was the right thing to do.”

Joe Aronson, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic Party, said the party received the announcement Tuesday shortly before the public announcement. Party chairman Mark Schneider released a short statement on the news.

“Let me be the first of many to congratulate Senator Dorgan on a remarkable public service career,” the statement said. “From his time as state Tax Commissioner to his decades of service on Capitol Hill, there are few North Dakotans who have had a larger impact on our state and our nation than Senator Dorgan.”

Sen. Kent Conrad commended Dorgan in a statement for his “extraordinary service” to North Dakota.

“Although Senator Dorgan is leaving the Senate at the end of 2010, I have a feeling that this will not be the last of his public service,” Conrad said in the statement. “It is my guess he will be on a short list of future Cabinet nominees to the Obama administration in the coming years.”

Rep. Earl Pomeroy called Dorgan “one of the best leaders our state has ever had.”

“It has been my great pleasure to team up with Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Dorgan in Congress,” Pomeroy wrote. “I have enjoyed working with Senator Dorgan and will miss him dearly.”

Hoeven said that the decision took him by surprise and called the senator a hard worker and a diligent public servant for 40 years.

“We’ve always had a good working relationship,” he said, pointing to cooperation on flood relief, Air Force base retention and farm bills.

Hoeven declined to talk about how Dorgan’s departure will affect national legislation such as carbon regulation and health care.

“There will be plenty of time to talk about those sort of things” after he reveals his decision on the Senate. “Our approach is that we’ll focus on the things we believe best serve the people of North Dakota.”

But Republican Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer said Dorgan’s decision “seals the deal” for Hoeven to run. Cramer said Dorgan would have had a tough time fending off a Hoeven challenge in any case.

Cramer also said he’s reconsidering an earlier decision not to run for the U.S. House. Pomeroy hasn’t said whether he’ll run for Dorgan’s seat or campaign for re-election to his own.

Former Republican governor and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer praised Dorgan as a politician who could put partisanship aside and work for the state.

“We had a good working relationship,” said Schafer, who lost to Dorgan in the 1990 U.S. House election. “He’s an excellent politician. ... People like him and trust him.”

Schafer said he was surprised by the senator’s choice.

“It seemed like everything was lining up for him to run again,” he said. “You work all your life and get to the point where the stars line up for you.”

Schafer also said Dorgan’s short time left in the Senate could give him a freer hand in crafting legislation.

“He may have a less anguished time voting for something he believes in that might not be popular here.”

Adam Jones, political director for the North Dakota GOP, said Dorgan’s decision not to run for re-election “absolutely” comes down to people in the state being unhappy with his support of the health care reform bill working its way through Congress. Jones said he believes Dorgan was unwilling to face his constituents. Earlier Rasmussen polling found that North Dakota voters would favor Hoeven over Dorgan, 58 percent to 36 percent, in a potential match-up.

“He realizes that he wouldn’t get re-elected because he flat out didn’t listen to the people,” Jones said.

However, Dorgan’s statement disputes that.

“Let me be clear that this decision does not relate to any dissatisfaction that I have about serving in the Senate. ... Further, my decision has no relationship to the prospect of a difficult election contest this year. Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be re-elected.”

Though many in the political field had been banking on a Hoeven-Dorgan race come November, others could be interested in throwing their hats in the ring. Neither Aronson nor Jones had lists of names of people who may be influenced to run following Dorgan’s decision.

Republicans who might have interest in running include state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, Public Service Commissioners Tony Clark and Kevin Cramer, state Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, Bismarck Mayor John Warford, Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson, state House Majority Leader Al Carlson and former state House Majority Leader Rick Berg. Fargo architect Paul Sorum and Navy veteran Duane Sand have announced plans to seek the Republican endorsement for the Senate.

Jones said Dorgan’s decision likely won’t influence Hoeven.

“I don’t think this will have any effect on the governor,” Jones said. “The decision for the governor to run has always been, basing on his statements, a family decision.”

Schafer was quick to remove himself from any discussion over the Senate race if Hoeven declines the opportunity. He has been considered a strong candidate in the past.

“I continue to have no interest,” he said. Schafer was skeptical that Pomeroy would step in on the Democratic side. Pomeroy is comfortable in the House, Schafer said, and might not be willing to commit himself to another six years in Washington.

“He’d be a formidable candidate for a Senate seat,” he said, but wondered if he had any interest.

More uncertainty exists on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Some people have suspected Pomeroy may make a run for the Senate, where he wouldn’t have to campaign every two years. Beyond Pomeroy, state Sen. Tim Mathern and former state attorney general and tax commissioner Heidi Heitkamp, both of whom Hoeven defeated in gubernatorial races, are seen as potential candidates.

Aronson jested that any Democrat older than 30 potentially could be a candidate. Schneider’s short statement also did not speculate on potential candidates.

“While the political implications of Senator Dorgan’s decision are significant, there will be time to address those issues in the coming weeks,” Schneider wrote. “Today, I join North Dakotans of both political parties in expressing heartfelt appreciation to Senator Dorgan for his outstanding work on behalf of our country.”

Jones guessed Dorgan’s decision will open up the fields in both parties.

“I think there will be more Democrats interested in it and the Republicans,” he said. “I think this will open up some interest, make some more people interested.”

Dorgan was raised in Regent. He was appointed state tax commissioner when he was 26 and was elected to Congress in 1980. He is a senior member of the Appropriations, Commerce and Energy committees. He also serves as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the Democratic Policy Committee.

Dorgan was one of eight senators to vote against the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 — a bill he calls “shortsighted, greedy and downright ignorant” — that was supported by President Bill Clinton and both parties in Congress. He also was one of several senators tied to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, though he came through mostly unscathed.

Dorgan is married to Kim Dorgan and has three living children: Scott, Brendon and Haley. His oldest child, Shelly, died unexpectedly at age 23 in 1993 after a routine surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat.

Dorgan wrote in his statement that representing the state “has been one of the great privileges of my life.”

“But even as we face all of these difficult issues, I am convinced that our country will rise to the challenge,” the senator wrote. “We are a great nation. And I have a deep sense of optimism about the future of our country.”

(Reach reporter Christopher Bjorke at 250-8261 or chris.bjorke@bismarcktribune.com. Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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