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Sen. Kent Conrad to retire, possibly marking end of Dakota Democrats

U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) will announce Monday he will not run for re-election in 2012 after being in the Senate since 1987, scoops Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post:

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…

Outside interest groups — the conservative American Future Fund and liberal-aligned Commonsense Ten — have already run ads in North Dakota, suggesting that the race would be a major priority for both national parties.

His retirement is bad news for the Democrats — North and South Dakota has reliably voted Republican in presidential elections but elected Democrats to Congress until recently.

For the last eighteen years before the 2010 elections, North Dakota had two Democratic senators and one Democrat at the state’s lone seat in the House of Representatives — dubbed ‘Team North Dakota’ giving the small state more influence on committees (especially the House and Senate Agriculture Committees) than it would have had otherwise. Rep. Earl Pomeroy lost his seat in 2010 after airing a last-ditch ad featuring him showing his driver’s license and saying, “I’m not Nancy Pelosi, I’m not Barack Obama” U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan announced that he would not run for re-election in early 2010 after he faced the possibility of a serious challenge from popular Gov. John Hoeven (R).

South Dakota, too, elected Democrats like Sen. Tom Daschle, Rep. Stephanie Herseth and before them, Sen. George McGovern — all of whom were defeated in big Republican years of 2004, 2010 and 1980, respectively. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) may well be the last Democrat of the Dakotas after 2012, as he is up for re-election in 2014. (He survived re-election in 2002 by 524 votes.)

The race might not be a foregone conclusion for Democrats as it was in 2010 — dthere isn’t a popular candidate like Gov. Hoeven in the race, and Barack Obama only lost North Dakota by eight points in 2008.

As they did during the health care debate, liberals will probably point out that the Dakotas have four senators, though the states’ cumulative population is only a little larger than that of the Bronx.

Dave Weigel notes that in 1889, congressional Republicans made the Dakotas two states to increase their representation in Congress. Belatedly, that could happen.

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