Minn. senator won't seek re-election, sources say

File photo of Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton
Dayton's departure is expected to open the way for an expensive election battle in 2006. Molly Riley / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton, a first-term Democrat atop the Republicans’ 2006 target list, has decided not to run for re-election next year, sources in his own party said Wednesday.

His decision is likely to open the way toward an expensive open-seat election battle in a state that has become more receptive to Republicans in recent years.

One official said the senator had informed his staff of his decision. A call to his office was not immediately returned.

The party sources familiar with Dayton’s plans spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to pre-empt a formal announcement expected later in the day.

Republicans control the Senate, 55-44, with one Democratic-leaning independent. Apart from Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has long signaled his intention to retire at the end of his term in 2006, although he has not recently confirmed plans to retire.

Dayton, 58, was elected to his seat in 2000, offering himself as a liberal alternative to conservative Sen. Rod Grams.

The victory was his first in electoral politics, 18 years after he lost his first bid for the Senate.

On the political hit list
Republicans had made little secret of the fact that they intended to run hard at Dayton next year. The names of GOP Reps. Mark Kennedy and Gil Gutnecht had both surfaced in recent months as potential challengers.

Heir to a family department store fortune, Dayton spent about $12 million of his own money in the 2000 race but said he wouldn’t do it again.

He struggled to raise money for a re-election campaign, and parted ways in the past few months with two top financial aides he had brought on to help jump-start his fund raising.

Dayton came to the Senate offering himself as a liberal alternative to the conservative Grams, and he often demonstrated a plainspoken style to go with it.

At a recent confirmation hearing for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he accused her and other Bush administration officials of “lying to Congress, lying to our committees, lying to the American people” in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

He also drew headlines last fall when he closed his Washington office, citing a top-secret intelligence report that he said made him fear for his staff’s safety.

Federal law enforcement officials said at the time there was no new intelligence information indicating the Capitol complex was a terrorist target. Republicans ridiculed Dayton, arguing his decision sent a dangerous signal that Americans would give in to terrorist threats.