This afternoon, SD Sen. Tim Johnson, who has served in Congress for 28 years, will announce that he will retire at the end of his term next year, rather than run for reelection. He is the fifth veteran Democrat to announce his retirement. His departure gives the GOP a prime opportunity to pick up the red state seat. They need a net gain of five seats to take control of the Senate.
Johnson’s retirement is not unexpected. In 2006, he suffered a brain hemorrhage. He has slowly recovered from that, even attaining the Chair of the powerful Senate Banking Committee. The midterm elections next year, however, prevented a real challenge to retaining his Senate seat. He may not have the stamina for such a competitive reelection.
Former GOP Gov. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), a popular figure in South Dakota, is already campaigning for the Senate seat. National Democrat policies like gun control and higher taxes are very unpopular in the state, which is one of nine without an income tax. Even a political institution like Johnson would have encountered strong headwinds to his reelection.
With his retirement announcement, a range of other candidates will consider entering the race. While Rounds is the presumptive favorite for the GOP nomination, open Senate seats are rare and may cause other GOP challengers to enter the race. On the Democrat side, local speculation is taping Johnson’s son, Brendan, US Attorney in the state, as a potential replacement.
While there are personal reasons behind Johnson’s retirement, it is also a clear sign that, in several states, at least, the political climate is shifting away from Democrats. The 2012 elections were not the progressive mandate that their current agenda would suggest.