WASHINGTON – Highlighting the challenge for Democrats in holding the Senate in 2012, Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., are stepping down instead of seeking re-election next year. Their decisions, announced early in the election cycle, will remove two more centrists from an increasingly polarized Senate.
Lieberman, the party’s 2000 vice presidential nominee who now caucuses with Democrats as an independent, will announce today that he is not seeking re-election, a Lieberman aide said Tuesday. Conrad, a deficit hawk, announced earlier in the day that he would retire after 26 years in the Senate.
Their action “clearly makes the Democratic majority shakier,” said Stu Rothenberg, who writes an independent newsletter on congressional elections. Conrad’s departure “means the Democratic Party will become more of an East Coast-West Coast party” with fewer lawmakers from heartland states, he added.
Lieberman’s decision “enables him for the next two years to be an honest broker between Democrats and Republicans on issues that matter to him, on national security, the debt issue and the environment,” said a Lieberman aide.
The Connecticut seat may well go to a Democrat who would be to the left of Lieberman. The 68-year-old senator, first elected in 1988, managed to win a three-way race in 2006 after losing the Democratic primary to a liberal outsider, Ned Lamont, but could have had a tough time winning a fifth term next year.
In North Dakota, Conrad faced a potentially stiff re-election challenge in a state where Republicans took the only House seat and a vacant Senate seat last fall.
Conrad announced his decision at almost the same time that Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said he will seek a seventh term despite an expected challenge from the tea party movement.
The retirement decisions go to the heart of the 2012 battle over control of the Senate. Democrats and their independent allies have a 53-47 edge.