Published January 06, 2010
The mood of the country is shifting sharply against the Democratic Party, which swept into power on wave elections in 2006 and 2008, and has now apparently used its total control over Washington to dig the country into an ever-growing mess and lose the confidence of the American people.
It started on the House side, with Reps. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.), and Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), all so-called Blue Dogs endangered by the hard-left turn of federal policy under President Obama. On Wednesday they were joined on the way out the door by three high-profile Democrats who won their posts in statewide-elections: Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. These retirements, on top of impressive Republican victories in the 2009 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia last year, show that the country is clearly in a very different political place than it was on election day 2008.
In North Dakota, Byron Dorgan was not only facing the potential of defending a Democratic agenda -- including a steep cap-and-trade energy tax in a state with booming oil, gas, and coal industries -- but also the likely task of facing Governor John Hoeven. Hoeven is the most popular governor in America right now. And he has presided over the state's natural resource boom and guided North Dakota to a place of strength. It is currently the only state in the country that has added jobs in the past year and it is one of only two states with a budget surplus. Dorgan rushed his retirement announcement to get out ahead of Hoeven's expected entry into the Senate race later this week.
In Colorado, Bill Ritter was supposedly a rising star and future presidential contender. This is a good indication that appointed Senator Michael Bennet will also have a very difficult time getting re-elected. Bennet famously disavowed the corrupt special deals for states like Nebraska and Louisiana in the health care bill, bragging that he cut no such deal for Colorado, but he voted for the bill anyway, helping move those corrupt deals toward becoming law. And all of this is happening in a state that was considered the template for how the Democrats were going to turn states from red to blue, permanently. Instead it looks like it's Colorado is on track to to flip to red as quickly as it turned blue, with the "rock star" governor lacking the confidence to run for re-election and a senator on very shaky ground.
But the today's biggest retirement story comes from Connecticut where Chris Dodd, the "Joe Morgan" of Senate Democrats in Harry Reid's strained baseball metaphor stood on the porch of his house and announced he will not seek reelection. As acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Dodd largely wrote the Senate health care bill, and as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee he has been presiding over ongoing attempts to take even greater federal control of our financial system. Dodd has been engulfed by scandals, including the revelation that he received a special sweetheart deal on a mortgage from Countrywide Financial under that company's corrupt "Friends of Angelo Mozilo" mortgage program that provided below-market loans to elected officials (Dorgan was also implicated, by the way). The scandal was especially damaging for Dodd because as chairman of the Banking Committee he was responsible for oversight of companies like Countrywide that were at the center of the housing crisis that brought the U.S. economy to its knees.
Dodd was probably un-electable and conventional wisdom is that his retirement will protect his Connecticut Senate seat for Democrats by letting them elect the state's Attorney General -- Richard Blumenthal. The problem with that plan is that voter anger will likely transfer from Dodd to Blumenthal, who, as the state's top law enforcement officer, should have been investigating the Dodd scandals, instead of insisting without a real investigation that his fellow Democrat had done nothing wrong. Moreover, the strong shift in the national mood is such that anyone with a "D" next to his name may have difficulty this year.
The retirements will keep coming, and we may even see more party switchers, like Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith, who determined his best chance of beating a Republican was to become one. Rather than pursuing popular policies designed to strengthen their majorities, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have decided to pursue a divisive ideological agenda that imperils the political future of rank-and-file Democrats. If they continue to pursue this agenda it will prompt more retirements, defections, and, come November, defeat at the polls.
Phil Kerpen is Policy Director for Americans for Prosperity and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.