Chris Dodd retires ahead of the voter posse.
Something odd is happening to the permanent progressive majority that the U.S. was supposed to have elected 14 months ago: Its Members are announcing plans to leave Congress even before the voters get a chance to pass judgment on their liberal governance.
"This is my moment to step aside," Christopher Dodd said yesterday in front of the East Haddam, Connecticut home that he once financed with the help of Countrywide Financial. The 65-year-old, five-term Senator said his decision not to seek re-election was his own, but there's little doubt he was heading toward a well-earned defeat this fall amid personal scandal and an angry electorate unsettled by the Obama-Pelosi agenda.
A day earlier, North Dakota's 67-year-old Byron Dorgan announced he also won't seek re-election. Though a left-winger in a conservative state, Mr. Dorgan's brand of prairie populism has sold well enough to keep him in Washington for 30 years, and the Senate for three terms. Mr. Dorgan has not had a truly close election since Barack Obama was in grade school, but this year he might have faced popular GOP Governor John Hoeven in a state where 64% of those polled in December by Rasmussen Reports opposed ObamaCare. Mr. Hoeven, if he runs, or some other Republican will likely win the seat, assuming the GOP is remotely competent.
The Dodd retirement means that his seat is also up for grabs. We wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Dodd, so far down in the polls, was told by fellow Democrats that he needed to clear the field for someone with a chance to win in the bluish state. Democrats think that man is the seemingly eternal state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, but the national environment favors Republicans.
As the state's highest-ranking law-enforcement official, Mr. Blumenthal rejected any suggestion of investigating the state's senior Senator for his participation in Countrywide's VIP program. This may make voters rightly skeptical of his potential to be an agent of change. Mr. Blumenthal certainly offers nothing new on policy for those voters grown weary of Mr. Dodd's agenda.
The potential for GOP gains in these states, and others, underscores how much the Democrats' 60-seat Senate majority is a fleeting historical accident. Alaska Republican Ted Stevens barely lost even after he was convicted of a crime that was overturned after the election. Trailing after election night in 2008, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken surged to victory during a "recount" distinguished by more ballots than voters in 25 precincts and preposterous inconsistency in the enforcement of rules by the state's Canvassing Board. Pennsylvanian Arlen Specter switched parties last year after his vote for the Obama stimulus became so unpopular that he concluded he could never win again as a Republican.
The looming collapse of the Democrats' momentarily filibuster-proof majority is reason enough not to ram through a health-care bill on a partisan vote. The brute political force will only look more willful and dismissive of public opinion.
The other immediate policy implication is that Republicans now have a much stronger hand to reject Mr. Dodd's blueprint for financial reform. Combining a safety net for too-big-to-fail behemoths with expensive consumer regulation that would fall on small community banks, his proposal has a limited constituency outside Goldman Sachs.
Republicans should resist the collegial urge to bestow a taxpayer-funded capstone on Mr. Dodd's Congressional career. They are likely to be in a much stronger position in 2011.