In a big development for the 2012 Senate races, Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) is set to announce that he is retiring, the Washington Post reports — opening up a red-state seat that could be very tough for the Dems to hold.
A moderate Democrat, Conrad was first elected to the Senate in 1986. He initially retired in 1992, but was then elected to the state’s other Senate seat in a late 1992 special election — making him the only person to have ever held both of his state’s Senate seats during the same day, when he was sworn in from one to the other. He was re-elected easily in 1994, 2000 and 2006.
He was one of the Democrats who helped sink the public option during the health care reform debates, but also helped to provide the 60th vote to pass the health care bill that ultimately did pass and was signed into law by President Obama.
His historically Republican state took an even bigger swing to the right in the past year, though. His fellow Dem Senator Byron Dorgan retired, with Republican John Hoeven easily winning the seat, and Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy was defeated for re-election.
Late Update: Conrad has made it official, releasing this statement:
“After months of consideration, I have decided not to seek reelection in 2012. There are serious challenges facing our State and nation, like a $14 trillion debt and America’s dependence on foreign oil. It is more important I spend my time and energy trying to solve these problems than to be distracted by a campaign for reelection.
“These next two years in office will be critical. My top priorities will be to:
• Get our country on a sound fiscal course;
• Reduce America’s dependence on foreign energy;
• Craft a new Farm Bill;
• Advance permanent flood control for the Red River Valley and;
• Address the disaster in the Devils Lake Basin.
“I deeply appreciate the extraordinary support I have received over the years from the people of North Dakota. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity they have given me. It has been an honor to serve as their United States Senator for the past 24 years. Working together, we’ve helped build a strong foundation for North Dakota’s future.
“I also want to thank my family, friends, and staff for years of support. I especially want to thank my wife Lucy and our family — our daughter Jessie, our son Ivan and his wife Kendra, and our grandson Carter — for their constant encouragement. I appreciate all the sacrifices they have made over the years.
“I also want to thank two of my best friends, Senator Byron Dorgan and Congressman Earl Pomeroy. It was my good fortune to serve in Congress with Byron and Earl for 18 years. We worked hard to produce results for our state and our country. It is an experience I will never forget.
“Although I will not seek reelection, the work is not done. I will continue to do my level best for both North Dakota and the nation over the final two years of my term.”