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Jan 9, 2010 5:18 pm

n latest sign of trouble for US Democrats, 2 senators, 1 governor ditch re-election plans

By Liz Sidoti (CP) – 3 days ago

WASHINGTON — With the 2010 election year barely under way in the United States, two senators and one governor - all Democrats - ditched plans to run for re-election in the latest signs of trouble for President Barack Obama’s party.

Taken together, the decisions by Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan as well as Colorado Governor Bill Ritter caused another bout of heartburn for Democrats as they struggle to defend themselves in a sour political environment for incumbents, particularly the party in charge.

As 2009 ended, Democrats watched a string of their House members announce retirements and one congressman defect to the Republican Party.

Now, with Dodd, Dorgan and Ritter out, Republicans have even more to crow about, if not better opportunities to pick up Democratic-held seats.

Democrats, who have a 60-40 Senate majority that includes two independents who vote with them, now will have to defend four open seats in the Senate. The other two currently belong to Senators Ted Kaufman, who replaced Vice-President Joe Biden, and Roland Burris, who replaced Obama. Kaufman and Burris are not running for election to the seats.

Republicans, for their part, are defending six open seats.

All seats in the House of Representatives and a third of the seats in the Senate will be on the ballot in the November midterm election. Analysts generally expect Democrats to lose seats, while keeping their majorities in both chambers.

But the loss of even a few seats in the Senate could be detrimental to Democrats, who need 60 votes to overcome Republican procedural obstacles. If Republicans continue to stand united against Obama, it could lead to political gridlock in the second half of his four-year term.

That increases pressure on Obama to get any major legislation - such as his health care overhaul or a climate change bill - passed this year. Yet even with commanding majorities, Obama has struggled to keep his party united on health care and other initiatives.

Among governors, Democrats are seeking to maintain their 26-24 majority in a year when those elected will oversee the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts for the next decade.

Republicans and Democrats alike say they now expect competitive races for Dorgan’s Senate seat in North Dakota, a Republican-tilting state, and the governor’s seat in Colorado, a pivotal swing state that has trended toward Democrats in recent years but may be shifting back toward Republicans.

In Democratic-leaning Connecticut, Dodd’s retirement may actually heighten the likelihood that the seat he’s held for five terms will remain in Democratic hands. The party can now recruit a more popular candidate to run, bolstering the prospects of thwarting a Republican victory. The former presidential candidate’s poll standing has fallen precipitously since 2008.

Dodd announced his retirement Wednesday. The 66-year-old is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, which was at the centre of efforts to deal with the economic meltdown. And he has played a prominent role in the contentious debate about overhauling health care, taking over for his friend Sen. Ted Kennedy during his illness and then after his death. Dodd underwent surgery for prostate cancer in August; he said it was in an early, treatable stage.

Hours after Dodd’s announcement, fellow Democrat Richard Blumenthal, one of the state’s most popular politicians, announced he would run for Dodd’s seat. He is the longtime Connecticut attorney general.

In North Dakota, Dorgan’s announcement Tuesday that he would retire stunned Democrats. They were confident that the 67-year-old moderate Democrat would run for re-election in the Republican-leaning state even as rumours intensified that the state’s Republican governor would challenge him.

In Colorado, Ritter announced Wednesday he won’t seek re-election as the western state’s governor this year, saying he needs to spend more time with his family. Elected in 2006, Ritter was among those Democrats who helped the party make inroads into what was once a solidly Republican state. He helped pave the way for Obama to win Colorado in 2008 and had been widely considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Associated Press writers David Espo, Ken Thomas and Andrew Miga in Washington, Steven K. Paulson in Denver, Dale Wetzel in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Susan Haigh and David Collins in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.