North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) won't seek re-election in 2012, presenting Republicans a top pick up opportunity next year.
In a statement, Conrad said he decided to spend the rest of his term addressing the country's problems instead of focusing on a re-election campaign.
"After months of consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election in 2012," Conrad said. "There are serious challenges facing our State and nation, like a $14 trillion debt and America's dependence on foreign oil. It is more important I spend my time and energy trying to solve these problems than to be distracted by a campaign for re-election."
Conrad was considered very vulnerable in 2012, but he represented the Democrats best shot at holding on to the seat. Without him in the race, Republicans -- who made significant gains in North Dakota last year -- start the 2012 cycle with significant advantage.
In 2010, Republican picked up both North Dakota's other Senate seat and the state's lone House seat. Already, Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk has announced he will run for the seat. Other potential Republican contenders include Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who is also considering a run for a full term as governor, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee welcomed the news.
"In the wake of Sen. [John] Hoeven's (R-N.D.) overwhelming victory last year, Senate Republicans fully expected North Dakota to be a major battleground in 2012, but Sen. Conrad's retirement dramatically reshapes this race in the Republicans' favor," said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh.
North Dakota does, however, have a history of electing Democratic senators and there is something of a bench in the state -- albeit a short one. Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D), who lost last year, could force a competitive race, as could former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.
In a statement, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray (Wash.) also said that Democrats may benefit from a crowded GOP primary.
"There are a number of potential Democratic candidates who could make this race competitive," she said, "while we expect to see a contentious primary battle on the Republican side."
This post was updated at 11 a.m. with Conrad's statement.