Count Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Guy Cecil among those who were surprised by Sen. Herb Kohl's (D-Wis.) decision to retire rather than run for re-election in 2012.
"We thought he was going to run," Cecil said in an interview with National Journal on Friday. Cecil said he knew about Kohl's decision before Friday, but he would not go into specifics about when he learned the news.
Under the leadership of current Chair Patty Murray, the DSCC has put in place a strategy of encouraging Senate incumbents to decide swiftly on re-election decisions. Before Kohl's announcement, five senators who caucus with the Democrats had announced they would retire rather than run for re-election in 2012. Murray said in April that she was confident there would be no further retirements.
"Our expectation is that he'll be the last retirement," said Cecil, of Kohl.
Cecil added that Democrats feel good about their chances in Wisconsin, saying the whole country has seen what Gov. Scott Walker (R) has done. "It's too early to talk about names," Cecil said, though he added in the next breath, "we're already talking to potential candidates."
Democrats are facing a tough Senate landscape, having to defend twenty-three seats in 2012. Lately, they have been on a recruiting roll, landing Rep. Shelley Berkley, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, and former Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run in Nevada, Virginia and Texas, respectively.
But Kohl's decision, which opens the door for Republicans to compete for his seat, reinforces just how fragile the Democrats' Senate majority is -- and how quickly momentum can shift toward Republicans, who only have to pick up four seats to win a majority in the upper chamber.