By JONATHAN ALLEN & MANU RAJU | 3/3/11 8:36 PM EST Updated: 3/5/11 11:33 AM EST
Five senators from the Democratic side of the aisle have already decided to hang ’em up after this term. Each has his own reasons, but it mostly boils down to this: For some senators, a job in the “most exclusive club” is not worth the hassle anymore.
“It’s about campaigns,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a retiring member of the Democratic Caucus, told POLITICO. “It’s about both the unremitting — that’s a bad word to use — about the constant pressure to raise money and travel all over the country doing that and the nastiness of the campaign. ... I have no second thoughts about it.”
Lieberman, who lost a 2006 Democratic primary only to win in the general election as an independent, faced a tough path to win reelection. And he’s 69. Democrats could well lose the Senate in 2012 anyway, meaning he would lose his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
“At least I’m not having to travel around the country raising money and being involved in a political back-and-forth of a campaign,” adds North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, who says he’d rather work to curtail the deficit than face another tough run in a conservative state.
Democratic officials say the early retirement announcements reflect a successful push by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray of Washington to guard against devastating last-minute surprises by pressing senators to decide sooner rather than later whether they’ll run.
The retirements of longtime veterans on the Democratic side, such as Lieberman, Conrad, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, are a sign, too, of the rapidly changing membership of the aging body. 2010 ushered in 16 new senators, one of the biggest classes in a generation, allowing a slew of newer members to quickly grab prized committee assignments and move up the ladder in a body long dominated by senior members.
Republicans see the playing field expanding with each Democrat who bails on the Senate.
“It certainly suggests that the pathway to get to 51 is achievable,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday. “I think depending on what happens in the next couple of years and depending on what retirements we have, a lot of these Democrat seats that are opening up, I think there are some opportunities for us — and I hope if we can get the right candidates in the races and resource them, we’ll have a shot at changing the equation.”
Murray may have the toughest political job in Washington: Twenty-three Democratic-held seats are on the ballot next year — compared with 10 for Republicans — and a net gain of just four seats would put the GOP in charge. Throw in a presidential election that promises to make already scarce funds even harder to come by, and Murray needs a bit of a miracle to hold the Senate.