I’ve always had a thing for the Peace Garden State, choosing to drive across its vast plains when I returned to Los Angeles from my brother’s wedding in Cincinnati in 2004. (It was not a direct route.) So, I’ve followed their politics a bit more closely than most. Although North Dakota voted only once for a Democrat on the presidential level (in the 1964 Johnson landslide) since 1936, it hasn’t sent a Republican to Washington since voters elected then-Congressman Mark Andrews to the Senate in 1980.
By all accounts, the junior Senator from North Dakota is a nice guy. I met him once and found him to be a most pleasant fellow. He crafted an image of moderation on the Great Plains, while voting in near lockstep with his party when in the nation’s capital.
Until yesterday, he had given every indication of running for a fourth term in the Senate.* Polls showed him trouncing perennial Republican candidate Duane Sand, yet losing handily to incumbent Governor John Hoeven. But, despite much pressure from Republicans, Hoeven had (heretofore) not offered any indication of his plans for the fall.
Given the collegiality of politics in North Dakota, my sense is that Hoeven called his state’s Senator to alert him of his intention to contest his seat. It would be the gentlemanly thing to do, particularly given Dorgan’s service to the state and decency toward its residents (including Hoeven). Realizing that he couldn’t win against the popular Republican Governor in a Republican state, Dorgan chose to bow out rather than wage a campaign he was sure to lose.
An indication that there’s substance to my notion: “North Dakota GOP Chairman Gary Emineth told POLITICO that he believes Hoeven is likely to run now.” And Emineth is more likely to be “in the know,” closer to Hoeven than pundits and bloggers who have been speculating in recent months about the Governor’s intentions.
This pickup shouldn’t cost the GOP much effort or money. Expect Hoeven to set up a committee, raising money in the spring, doing his job and not campaigning until the fall.
Indeed, according to Politico:
Democrats were all but blindsided by Dorgan’s decision to retire rather than seek a fourth term in a seat that only he might have been able to hold. Neither the Senate majority leader nor the White House even had a statement prepared.