Kent Conrad to Retire; GOP Eyes Seat

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., on Face the Nation, Feb. 28, 2010
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad announced today that he will not seek reelection in 2012, opening up a prime pickup opportunity for the Republican Party as it tries to take control of the Senate.

"There are serious challenges facing our State and nation, like a $14 trillion debt and America's dependence on foreign oil," he said in announcing the decision. "It is more important I spend my time and energy trying to solve these problems than to be distracted by a campaign for reelection."

Conrad, chair of the Senate Budget Committee and a well-respected policymaker, vowed to spend the next two "critical" years focusing on putting America on "a sound fiscal course," reducing America's dependence on foreign energy and other issues, including writing a new Farm Bill.

"Although I will not seek reelection, the work is not done. I will continue to do my level best for both North Dakota and the nation over the final two years of my term," he said.

CBS Radio News Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss reports that Conrad is "one of the most respected members of the Senate."

"He served on the president's deficit reduction panel and has long tried, without much success, to get Congress to take seriously the threat of the increasing federal debt," Fuss said.

Conrad may have had a tough road to reelection in 2012 in a state that appears to be trending Republican: Former Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan retired last year in the face of a rough election landscape, resulting in the seat going (by a wide margin) to Republican John Hoeven. And the state's Democratic Congressman, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, lost his seat to newly-elected GOP Rep. Rick Berg.

National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Communications Director Brian Walsh vowed to fight for the seat in a statement.

"We believe this race represents one of the strongest pickup opportunities for Senate Republicans this cycle and will invest whatever resources are necessary to win next year," he said.

Despite private concerns among Democrats that the seat may well be lost, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Senator Patty Murray cast the situation as less-than-dire.

"There are a number of potential Democratic candidates who could make this race competitive while we expect to see a contentious primary battle on the Republican side," she said. "North Dakotans have a long history of electing moderate Democrats to the Senate, and we believe they will have an opportunity to keep up that tradition next November."

Pomeroy is one of those Democrats, as The Fix reports, along with Heidi Heitkamp, the former attorney general in the state, and her brother Joel Heitkamp.

Conrad is the second senator to announce that he will not seek reelection in 2012, following Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.