Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota Retiring

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) announced Tuesday afternoon that he is retiring and won’t run for another term.

In a statement, which surprised his constituents and his Senate colleagues, the three-term senator said over the past several months he “began to wrestle with the question of whether making a commitment to serve in the Senate seven more years (next year plus a new six-year term) was the right thing to do.”

“Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life,” Dorgan said. “I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.”

“So, over this holiday season, I have come to the conclusion, with the support of my family, that I will not be seeking another term in the U.S. Senate in 2010. It is a hard decision to make after thirty years in the Congress, but I believe it is the right time for me to pursue these other interests.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, Dorgan’s Democratic colleague who also serves North Dakota, predicted that Dorgan will be appointed to a cabinet position in the Obama administration.

“Although Senator Dorgan is leaving the Senate at the end of 2010, I have a feeling that this will not be the last of his public service,” Conrad said in a statement posted on his website. “It is my guess he will be on a short list of future Cabinet nominees to the Obama Administration in the coming years.”

Dorgan’s departure will leave Democrats vulnerable come November’s midterm election.

The Hill noted that North Dakota’s Republican governor, John Hoeven, an exteremly popular figure in the state who is serving his third-term in office, may now seek Dorgan’s senate seat.

“…In a year that looked to be tough for Democrats in conservative areas, an open seat in North Dakota is a body blow,” the Hill reported, adding that Dorgan now joins “four Democratic House incumbents in swing or conservative areas who retired recently, giving Democrats their first outright retirees of the cycle.”

“The seat immediately becomes a toss-up, with Republicans being handed what is perhaps their best pickup opportunity on the map. If Hoeven runs, Democrats will have a hard time contesting the seat,” the Hill reported.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said Tuesday it was likely Hoeven will campaign for Dorgan’s seat and that Dorgan’s retirement was likely due to the fact that polls showed that he trailed Hoeven by double-digits.

“This development is indicative of the difficult environment and slumping approval ratings that Democrats face as a result of their out of control tax-and-spend agenda in Washington, and we fully intend to capitalize on this opportunity by continuing to recruit strong candidates who can win these seats in November,” Walsh said.

Walsh pointed to a recent poll conducted by Rasmussen that showed Hoeven leading Dorgan in a hypothetical senate election by 22 percentage points.

Dorgan, perhaps expecting Republicans to spin his retirement, said his “decision has no relationship to the prospect of a difficult election contest this year.”

“Frankly, I think if I had decided to run for another term in the Senate I would be reelected,” he said.

Dorgan also sought to quash speculation that his decision not to seek another term was due to fierce partisanship over domestic issues such as health care. The New York Times reported that Dorgan, the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, “has expressed some frustration with the direction of his party this year.

“While other Democrats wanted to pursue major health care legislation, Mr. Dorgan though they should focus more on jobs and the economy,” according to the Times.

While Dorgan said it’s true that he wishes there “was less rancor and more bipartisanship in the US Senate these days,” his decision “does not relate to any dissatisfaction that I have about serving in the Senate.”

He said that although President Obama “inherited an economy in serious trouble, I remain confident that [Obama] is making the right decisions to put our country back on track.”

Dorgan added that in his remaining months in office he will continue to work toward getting “the economic engine restarted and [putting] people back to work.”

“We need to reform our financial system to make sure that which happened to cause this deep recession will not happen again,” Dorgan said. “And we need to get our fiscal and budget policies under control. The federal budget deficits are not sustainable.”