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Retirements Shuffle 2012 Senate Landscape

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Sen. Kent Conrad’s decision to retire makes the 2012 Senate map a little easier for Republicans aiming to retake the Senate majority, and it shines a spotlight on Democrats who haven’t yet said whether they plan to seek re-election in what could be a tough cycle for the party.

Sen. Joe Lieberman on Wednesday is widely expected to say he has decided against a re-election bid, opening a seat in Connecticut that Democrats are likely to retain. But Conrad’s move changes the 2012 landscape and won’t help the party stave off a likely loss in North Dakota.

Conrad is the lone Democrat in North Dakota’s delegation, and Republican Sen. John Hoeven’s landslide victory following Sen. Byron Dorgan’s retirement last year may have scared away Democrats on the bench from seeking Conrad’s seat next year.

Roll Call Politics has moved the North Dakota race from Leans Democratic to Leans Republican. With Conrad out and no clear Democratic successor in place, a less competitive race would allow the GOP, just four seats shy of the majority, to focus on other pickup opportunities.

The Lieberman announcement is expected to come at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. His staff was publicly tight-lipped about Lieberman’s intentions, except to say, “The decision has been made for a while.”

Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, would have a difficult path to victory as a Democrat since he was booted in a Democratic primary in 2006 and campaigned for Republicans in 2008. There are at least two likely Democratic candidates, and Connecticut Republicans have their own contenders.

Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) announced her candidacy Tuesday, and Rep. Christopher Murphy (D) said he would make a decision “very soon.”

On the Republican side, Connecticut GOP Chairman Chris Healy told Roll Call that independently wealthy professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon or narrowly defeated gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley could run strong races.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) has long said he expected to return his party to the majority over the course of two cycles. Republicans are on the offensive: Democrats have 23 seats to defend because of a strong cycle in 2006, and Republicans have only 10.

An NRSC spokesman called North Dakota “one of the strongest pickup opportunities for Senate Republicans this cycle,” pledging the party would invest any resources necessary to win.

In 2010, Dorgan’s retirement announcement less than three months before the state parties’ conventions left Democrats scrambling to find a nominee. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did little to help state Sen. Tracy Potter, writing off the seat early to focus on more competitive races.

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