Cillizza has the scoop:
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.
The first important fact, as Cillizza points out, is that the American Future Fund was already on the airwaves attacking Conrad, a deficit hawk, over fiscal issues. That's another argument for these small groups to go in early and bloody up Democrats. The second is that Democrats assume they're going to lose the seat, which would have been unseemly pessimism only a year or two ago. Democrats were in a uniquely tough spot in 2010, when Byron Dorgan retired, because it was clear that Gov. John Hoeven would run for the seat, in a good year for Republicans, with the highest approval ratings of any state executive in America. But in 2008, Barack Obama had put money into the state, losing it to John McCain by only 8 points -- John Kerry had lost it by 27 points. It was the best any Democratic candidate had done in the state since 1976, and now the smart money is that Democrats can't win there.
Oh, and a historical note -- there is a long-delayed reward for Republicans here. In 1889, North and South Dakota both became states despite neither being terribly populous. One reason was that the dominant Republicans of the time wanted to strengthen their control of Congress and create a chance to elect four Republican senators instead of two. But for decades, North and South Dakota stubbornly sent Democrats to Washington. At the start of the 2010 cycle, Democrats held three of the Dakotas' Senate seats and both of their House seats. As we entered this cycle, Democrats held only two of the Senate seats, and neither House seat. If the Conrad seat flips, Republicans will finally, finally get a majority of senators from the region.