This morning, in the wake of the news that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) will retire and that Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal will run for his seat, I wrote:

[I]f the first polls of the race with Blumenthal show even a hint of hope for the Republican challengers, that might be even worse news for Democrats. Linda McMahon (of wrestling fame), former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, and former Ron Paul adviser Peter Schiff were battling to face Dodd in the general. If the most popular politician in a super-blue state like Connecticut is in any sort of trouble against those three, well, national Dems are probably cooked.

Public Policy Polling, which was in the field on Monday and Tuesday, has some good news for Dems. Dodd's retirement makes this look like a safe seat:

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal leads all three of the Republicans in the race by at least 30 points in polling we conducted Monday and Tuesday night before Dodd's announcement.

Blumenthal is unusually popular, especially in hyper partisan times when voters like few politicians. 59% have a favorable opinion of him to just 19% who see him negatively. It's no surprise that he's liked by 71% of Democrats and 60% of independents, but even Republicans view him favorably by a 37/35 margin. It doesn't take a lot of hands to count the number of Democratic politicians with positive numbers among GOP voters these days.

Blumenthal leads Rob Simmons 59-28, Linda McMahon 60-28, and Peter Schiff 63-23. It would take an epic collapse for him not to be Connecticut's next Senator.

With this race moving rapidly off the national radar, Connecticut politicos will probably focus more on the fight for the open governor's mansion, and Republicans will spend more money (and energy) trying to win at least one of the Connecticut House races. (Republicans held three of the state's five House seats as recently as 2006.)

Kevin is traveling today and tomorrow.

One nugget buried in Byron Dorgan's official statement on retirement caught my attention: the three-term senator plans to do work on energy policy from the private sector after finishing his term.

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. 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.

It's a fleeting mention, but it's indeed interesting, as Dorgan remains one of the key potential votes on cap-and-trade legislation. He has thus far not been very enthusiastic about voting for a bill. "I’m in favor of taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and to protect our environment. But I don’t support the 'cap-and-trade' plan now being debated in the Congress," he wrote in an editorial in The Bismarck Tribune last summer.

His biggest interest when it comes to cap-and-trade: protecting coal. He has been among the staunchest advocates for coal in the Senate. "We need a future in which we continue to use our most abundant resource, and that’s coal," said Dorgan during debate of the energy bill last year.

Coal-fired power plants produce more than 90 percent of North Dakota's power, and the state has the largest lignite coal deposit in the world. Lignite mining is the state's fifth-largest industry, bringing in roughly $3 billion each year. Electric utilities have been Dorgan's fourth-largest contributor over his career, at $426,207, and energy and natural resources companies have also given him more than $829,000.

Now, he's also been an advocate of wind power, which is also abundant in his state. So there's always the chance that he will go on to consult on wind policy. But it seems most likely that the revolving door will drop him off in coal country. And if that is the case, it seems to indicate that Dorgan would be even less likely to vote for a cap-and-trade plan this year that would hurt the coal industry.

Social Democracy

David Brooks and Ross Douthat, the New York Times' top conservative columnists, have gazed upon Jim Manzi's essay on conservative reform in National Affairs and found it worthy of great praise. The New Republic's Jon Chait, who just launched a new blog, isn't so sure:

The weakness of Manzi's essay is that it does almost nothing to establish its key premise that President Obama's agenda will stifle growth. Almost all the work of establishing this point comes in this section:

From 1980 through today, America's share of global output has been constant at about 21%. Europe's share, meanwhile, has been collapsing in the face of global competition — going from a little less than 40% of global production in the 1970s to about 25% today. Opting for social democracy instead of innovative capitalism, Europe has ceded this share to China (predominantly), India, and the rest of the developing world.

Manzi's argument is poppycock. First, as Chait lays out and as Manzi admits to Chait via email, Manzi is comparing the US from 1980-present to Europe from 1973-today. Secondly, Manzi is including former Communist bloc countries in his "calculations"—making this far from a fair comparison between American-style economic strategy and European-style "social democracy." The Ukraine in 1983 was not a social democracy.

At first glance, all this reeks of intellectual dishonesy. But Chait very generously decides to give Manzi the benefit of the doubt and argues that Manzi "simply assume[d] that [social democracy] inherently produces dramatically lower growth." It's interesting that Brooks and Douthat, who are supposedly the "thinking person's" conservatives, made exactly the same assumptions. Since conservatives just know in their guts that the European socioeconomic model is bad for economic growth, there's no need to actually prove it. Anyway, Chait has more on this, including a guest appearance by Kevin.

Update: Manzi responds to Chait. Ezra thinks he is pretty convincing, but I'm not so sure. Manzi doesn't offer any explanation for why he used the countries and time periods that he did. Manzi is arguing that the "innovative capitalism" model is superior to the "social democracy" model. It's his responsibility to make sure that he doesn't undermine his arguments by throwing late-90s France and late-70s Ukraine into the same basket and calling it "Europe." And as Manzi's own commenters point out, he doesn't even begin to address Chait's points about population growth. The declines in share of global GDP that Manzi seems so worried about seem to have little to do with the failures of "social democracy" and a lot to do with stagnant population growth.

Update Two: The Economist's Democracy in America blog hits Manzi hard on the population growth point:

[T]he entirety of the difference between the change in global GDP shares in America and Europe from 1980-2009 is explained by the difference in population growth rates. That's the whole thing. Europe's share of global population fell by 40.4%, while its share of global GDP fell by 25.2%. America's share of global population fell by 13.2%, while its share of global GDP rose by 2%. Indeed, given that per capita income rose at essentially the same rate (66% in America versus 63% in the EU15), population growth is the only possible explanation for the difference.

This seems like a win for Chait. In this case, contra commenters, The Economist weighed in to defend Europe's social model. That's probably because their American politics blog tends to be leftier than the print magazine.

Byron Dorgan's retirement has made John Hoeven, the three-term Republican governor of North Dakota, very close to a lock to become a US Senator if he runs. So will he? TPM's Eric Kleefeld has the goods:

[North Dakota] State GOP chairman Gary Emineth told Politico: "I expect Gov. Hoeven to get in, and he's going to work through personal issues relating to his family, but I would be shocked if he's not in the Senate race soon."

North Dakota GOP political director Adam Jones explained to me that the family issues referred to here were simply a matter of Hoeven talking to his family about the prospect of a Senate run and a move to Washington. "First and foremost, the governor is a father and husband before he's a public servant," said Jones. "First he has to decide what's good for his family."

I asked Jones if he thought there was any significant chance that Hoeven wouldn't make the race. His response: "No, absolutely not."

That seems settled. It's worth noting that Hoeven has a truly weird doesn't-match-his-hair mustache and is really young-looking (he's 52). At first, I thought he actually looked kind of bizarrely like Michael Cera. Unfortunately, a few minutes with Photoshop revealed that this was a fairly stupid theory that will not hold up under scrutiny. Behold:

Blind Ben and the Fed

In his column today, the New York Times' David Leonhardt takes to task the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Ben Bernanke, for not acknowledging that they inexplicably missed the housing bubble, and questions the Fed's ability to spot future bubbles. In the wake of Bernanke's speech this weekend in which he deflected blame for the crisis and instead pointed to lax regulation as the culprit, Leonhardt rightly notes, as many others have, the numerous occasions in the lead-up to the crisis when Bernanke and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, rejected the idea of a housing meltdown and the broader crisis to follow. Like Bernanke saying "We've never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis" in 2005, or that Fed officials "do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy" in 2007. Ouch.

Still, near the end of his column, Leonhardt begrudgingly concedes that the Fed "does seem to be the best agency to regulate financial firms." Say it ain't so, Dave.
 

Sen. Tim Johnson will be the senior Democrat on the banking committee after Dodd leaves Congress. (Official photo.)Sen. Tim Johnson will be the senior Democrat on the banking committee after Dodd leaves Congress. (Official photo.)(Cross-posted from MoJo.)

On Twitter, Reuters' Jim Pethokoukis points out that Chris Dodd's retirement is (like everything) "great news for banks." It will make South Dakota's Tim Johnson, who likes banks even more than Dodd, the senior Dem on the banking committee. "And Byron Dorgan was a big Glass Steagall guy," Pethokoukis writes. Indeed—Dorgan was one of several lawmakers who gave earily prescient quotes to the New York Times when the bill was repealed ten years ago. As Kevin wrote in the most recent issue of the print mag, the banks already own the Hill, so while these retirements are good for Big Finance, they don't mark some big transition—they simply reinforce the status quo.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), another hated enemy of liberals, also benefits from Dodd's retirement, since Lieberman probably won't have to face the very popular Richard Blumenthal in 2012.

Dodd's retirement is bad news for Merrick Alpert, who was running what Nate Silver describes as a "competent campaign" but who lacks name recognition and probably can't fend off Blumenthal. (Mother Jones' Ben Buchwalter interviewed Alpert last month.)

Over at TAPPED, Monica Potts wonders "why the White House fought for [Dodd] until the very end." That's easy: Dodd and Biden are close friends, and if Dodd had stayed in, Biden would probably have kept fighting for him all the way through to election day. I won't be surprised when the Times and the Post do their play-by-plays tomorrow or Friday if it turns out that the Veep played a key role in convincing Dodd to give up the fight.

On the Dorgan front, DougJ at Balloon Juice has a truly epic email from a former Dakota senate staffer who gives the R-rated explanation of why Silver immediately moved the North Dakota race to the top of his "most likely to flip" list. It's probably too profane for a family blog, but you can read it over at Balloon Juice.

Housekeeping Note

Hi everyone. You've probably noticed by now, but Nick Baumann from our DC bureau is filling in for me for a couple of days as I travel to chilly climes back East. I may have time to put up a post or two — WiFi and flight delays permitting — but if not, Nick has you covered. I'll be back on Friday.

A second county Republican Party in South Carolina has voted to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham over his work on cap-and-trade legislation and his willingness work across party lines on issues like climate, bailing out the banks, and immigration.

The Lexington County Republican Party voted 13-7 in favor of a resolution censuring Graham on Monday, and called on the state party to rescind support for the senator, because his "positions do not reflect a complete belief in the South Carolina Republican party platform and do not serve the interests of South Carolinians." The resolution was sponsored by Talbert Black Jr., a county party member who had previously served as the interim state director for Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty campaign group, which gives a good sense of the stripe of conservatives running the Lexington County GOP.

Graham, the resolution states, has "repeatedly demonstrated contempt and belligerence towards those members of the Republican Party who support freedom, a Constitutional government, and the Republican Party platform."

His support for a cap-and-trade bill to address climate change and his willingness to work with John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), "reiterates his support for government intervention in the private sector in direct contradiction of the Republican principle of free markets, as stated by the Republican party platform," says the statement.

The Republican Party of Charleston County also voted to censure him in November for his stance on climate policy and his willingness to work with Democrats on key issues.

Graham responded to the most recent rebuke on Tuesday night, dissmissing the country chapter as "fringe elements" representing the "Ron Paul movement." He criticized what he called the "misplaced priorities" of the county GOP. "I do believe in finding common ground to solve hard problems," said Graham, "but there are some elements of my party and others that want complete agreement all the time."

"The 13 people who support this resolution are Ron Paul supporters," Graham said. "They didn't vote for me before and they're not going to vote for me next time, and I understand that."

Sen. Tim Johnson will be the senior Democrat on the banking committee after Dodd leaves Congress. (Official photo.)Sen. Tim Johnson will be the senior Democrat on the banking committee after Dodd leaves Congress. (Official photo.)On Twitter, Reuters' Jim Pethokoukis points out that Chris Dodd's retirement is (like everything) "great news for banks." It will make South Dakota's Tim Johnson, who likes banks even more than Dodd, the senior Dem on the banking committee. "And Byron Dorgan was a big Glass Steagall guy," Pethokoukis writes. Indeed—Dorgan was one of several lawmakers who gave earily prescient quotes to the New York Times when the bill was repealed ten years ago. As Kevin wrote in the most recent issue of the print mag, the banks already own the Hill, so while these retirements are good for Big Finance, they don't mark some big transition—they simply reinforce the status quo.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), another hated enemy of liberals, also benefits from Dodd's retirement, since Lieberman probably won't have to face the very popular Richard Blumenthal in 2012.

Dodd's retirement is bad news for Merrick Alpert, who was running what Nate Silver describes as a "competent campaign" but who lacks name recognition and probably can't fend off Blumenthal. (Mother Jones' Ben Buchwalter interviewed Alpert last month.)

Over at TAPPED, Monica Potts wonders "why the White House fought for [Dodd] until the very end." That's easy: Dodd and Biden are close friends, and if Dodd had stayed in, Biden would probably have kept fighting for him all the way through to election day. I won't be surprised when the Times and the Post do their play-by-plays tomorrow or Friday if it turns out that the Veep played a key role in convincing Dodd to give up the fight.

On the Dorgan front, DougJ at Balloon Juice has a truly epic email from a former Dakota senate staffer who gives the R-rated explanation of why Silver immediately moved the North Dakota race to the top of his "most likely to flip" list. It's probably too profane for a family blog, but you can read it over at Balloon Juice.

Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the embattled five-term incumbent, will announce his retirement later today:

The decision came hours after another Democratic senator, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, also announced that he would not seek re-election this November. The developments underscored the fragility of the Democrats’ 60-vote Senate majority, which is just enough to block Republican filibusters. Democratic incumbents also face serious challenges in Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada and Pennsylvania among other states.

The Dorgan seat will almost certainly be a Republican pickup. But Democrats probably have a better chance of holding Dodd's seat now that he's out. That's because Richard Blumenthal, the state Attorney General and by far the most popular elected official in Connecticut, is jumping into the race. Only 13 percent of Connecticut voters disapprove of Blumenthal, and his approval rating is a stratospheric 78 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Those put Dodd's numbers to shame. Dodd's exit and Blumenthal's entrance were almost certainly arranged behind the scenes, of course—Dodd probably wouldn't have given up his re-election fight unless he could be sure dropping out would actually improve his party's odds of holding his seat.

Chris Dodd with President Obama and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in happier times. (White House photo.) Dodd with President Obama and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), in happier times. (White House photo.)I was actually working on a piece for the magazine arguing that Dodd was a bit of a canary in the coal mine for Democrats, since as chair of the Senate banking committee he's seen as more responsible for the country's economic woes than other Dems. That's moot now. But if the first polls of the race with Blumenthal show even a hint of hope for the Republican challengers, that might be even worse news for Democrats. Linda McMahon (of wrestling fame), former Republican Rep. Rob Simmons, and former Ron Paul adviser Peter Schiff were battling to face Dodd in the general. If the most popular politician in a super-blue state like Connecticut is in any sort of trouble against those three, well, national Dems are probably cooked. (Update: Good news for Dems—Blumenthal leads all three Republicans by 30 points. This is probably a safe seat now.)

Kevin is traveling today and tomorrow.