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Retirements Shuffle 2012 Senate Landscape

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Conrad’s surprise announcement left state Democrats wondering who might jump in. Some obvious choices are Potter and ex-Rep. Earl Pomeroy, who lost to now-Rep. Rick Berg (R) by 10 points in November. Pomeroy, who now works for Alston & Bird in Washington, D.C., didn’t rule out a bid. Former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp and her brother, former state Sen. Joel Heitkamp, have been mentioned. Roger Johnson, now the president of the National Farmers Union, told Roll Call he isn’t interested in the job.

Other potential Democratic contenders mentioned by state sources include state Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor, Fargo Deputy Mayor Tim Mahoney, former state Rep. and Dorgan Chief of Staff Pam Gulleson, Conrad State Director Scott Stofferahn, and small-businesswoman Kristin Hedger.

But there’s no shortage of candidates on the Republican side. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk announced last week that he has formed an exploratory committee, and most Republicans elected to statewide office have been mentioned for the Senate race, including Berg, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. Fong, busy with the legislative session and tax season, said he won’t make a decision about the Senate race for several months.

“I think that it’s going to be a great opportunity for Republicans to field a very strong candidate,” Fong told Roll Call.

North Dakota is far from the only state where a retirement might dramatically alter a Senate race.

Other Democratic Senators may be thinking about retiring: Sen. Herb Kohl hasn’t announced re-election plans, and since he will turn 76 in February, observers in Wisconsin have questioned whether he will run again.

Sen. Jim Webb also has not given much indication about his plans. The Virginia Democrat could face a rematch with former Sen. George Allen (R), whom Webb defeated in one of the biggest upsets of 2006.

Webb’s decision may come by the end of March, but former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said on MSNBC on Tuesday that he fully expects the Senator to run for re-election. Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also took himself out of the running for the seat should Webb retire.

In New Mexico, Sen. Jeff Bingaman is taking his time to decide whether to run for a sixth term, which has led to speculation he may retire. The Democrat has some fundraising, but while he contemplates the future, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R) has told Roll Call she is considering running.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D), 86, has insisted he’ll seek a fourth term, announcing in Hawaii he’s ready to run.

Early activity doesn’t make re-election bids a certainty. After all, Conrad had already run radio ads back home this month defending his record, even though sources told Roll Call he decided over the holidays not to run.

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