US President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies were off to a rocky election-year start on Wednesday, with high-profile retirements endangering their fragile Senate majority — and his agenda.
Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the powerful Senate Banking Committee, announced he would not seek re-election in November, depriving Obama of a steadfast, powerful ally and 35-year veteran of Washington.
“This is my moment to step aside,” Dodd told reporters outside his Connecticut home, acknowledging a series of troubles had left him in “the toughest political shape of my career.”
Democrats, their Senate and House of Representatives majorities up for grabs in the November vote, hoped the embattled lawmaker’s departure would help them keep his seat in a state where Obama won easily in 2008.
The announcement came a day after Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said he would not seek another term, boosting Republican chances of seizing his spot, which would strengthen their ability to block Obama’s agenda.
The Senate’s 58 Democrats, when joined by two independents who are often their allies, now have the bare minimum 60-vote majority needed in the 100-seat Senate to overrun any Republican delaying tactics.
Dodd, hurt by a controversial home loan and a failed 2008 White House bid, has been a key author of legislation to enact Obama’s top domestic priority — remaking US healthcare — and a central player in efforts to revamp rules for Wall Street, battle climate change, and pressure Iran over its nuclear program.
Dorgan and Dodd’s departures leave Democrats defending four open Senate seats and three highly vulnerable ones, including the spot held by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
Republicans will defend six open Senate seats, and Democrats hope to wage competitive races in five of those.
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele has already said his party would not retake the House even though mid-term elections usually result in losses for the president’s camp.
Dodd’s term ends in January next year.
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