Bad news comes in threes. Just hours after Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) announced his retirement, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter notified his campaign that he, too, would not seek re-election. Late tonight, aides to Chris Dodd sent word that the long-time senator from Connecticut would also be stepping aside.
There are individual, candidate-specific reasons for each withdrawal, but each candidate, because of the national environment, faced tough re-election campaigns. Dodd was in the most danger, his image never recovering from his association with Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozillo and an impression that he had abandoned the state. The Democrat who will likely replace Dodd as the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, is popular, and will probably be favored to win over either of the two Republican candidates, Linda McMahon and former Rep. Rob Simmons.
Colorado is a tough state for Democrats. Senate incumbent Michael Bennet has an even chance, at best, of retaining his seat, and Ritter has suffered from an erosion of his base support at a time when he's been forced to make unpopular budget decisions. Democrats may fare better if ex-House Speaker Andrew Romanoff decides to run for governor and not challenge Bennet in the Senate primary.
On balance, Republicans today gained a foothold in North Dakota, and Democrats increased their likelihood of keeping their Senate seat in Connecticut. Privately, senior White House officials have communicated to Dodd their belief that his position was untenable. A sinecure or administration position is likely.
Bottom line: from a micro perspective, the GOP gains nothing from today. From a macro perspective, anytime three major Democratic party figures retire...ain't good for that party.
The biggest lesson from today is psychological. There are a lot of Democrats who want to retire, and their colleagues, in essence, are giving them cover to do so. That's what makes Democrats so nervous.