North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad plans to announce his retirement today, according to two informed Democratic sources, creating a potentially prime pickup opportunity for Republicans in a GOP-leaning state. Conrad, who currently chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has been in office since 1986 and risen to become one of the most influential -- and intellectual -- policy makers operating in the nation's capital. Conrad had been open about his ambivalence about running for another term and those doubts almost certainly increased following a 2010 election that decimated the Democratic party. Former Sen. Byron Dorgan retired in the face of a challenge from popular Governor-now-Senator John Hoeven while former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D) was defeated by Rick Berg.
This is yet another blow to Senate Democrats who have a tough playing field in 2012: there are 23 Democratic seats up for reelection and just 10 Republican seats. For now, you can go ahead and add North Dakota to the "leans GOP"--if not "likely GOP"--column, given the state's partisan voting history in presidential elections as well as the most recent midterm election.