Conrad leads retiree class of 2012 Democrats in Senate

It didn’t take long for the midterm election to have an impact on the 23 Democrats who must defend their seats in 2012.  One of them, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, will announce his retirement today rather than fight for another term.  Conrad will retire from the Senate at the relatively young age of 64:

North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad plans to announce his retirement today, according to two informed Democratic sources, creating a potentially prime pickup opportunity for Republicans in a GOP-leaning state.

Conrad, who currently chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has been in office since 1986 and risen to become one of the most influential — and intellectual — policy makers operating in the nation’s capital.

Conrad had been open about his ambivalence about running for another term and those doubts almost certainly increased following a 2010 election that decimated the Democratic party.

Conrad will be the first Senate Democrat to retire after his party lost six Senate seats in the midterms, but he probably won’t be the last.  Republicans will almost certainly pick up at least the four seats necessary to gain control in the upper chamber, as Democrats have to defend 13 more seats than the GOP in 2012.  With minority status looming for Democrats, the desire to stay will diminish for many.  The big surprise here may be that it was Conrad who decided to pull the plug first and not Jim Webb in Virginia, who has hardly bothered to fundraise, or Ben Nelson in Nebraska, who’s certain to be especially targeted by the GOP for his vote in support of ObamaCare.

Actually, the North Dakota seat may have been a tough pickup for Republicans if Conrad fought for it.  The big GOP rock star, former governor John Hoeven, won the other Senate seat when Byron Dorgan saw the writing on the midterm wall and bailed out of his re-election bid.  Republicans now have almost two years to build its bench and find a contender for the race.

On the Democratic side, Chris Cillizza reports that Earl Pomeroy may decide to aim for Conrad’s seat, which will be difficult to do.  Pomeroy lost his own state-wide re-election bid for the at-large House seat to Rick Berg by almost ten points.  The heavily Republican state is unlikely to throw its support to the man it rejected in November.  Since this will also be a presidential election, and North Dakota goes big for Republican candidates at the top of the ticket, any Democrat contending for the Senate slot will have an even greater disadvantage.  Conrad’s retirement makes this a much less complicated race, and will allow the GOP to put resources into other Senate races.