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Tim Johnson retirement boosts GOP hopes to take back Senate (+video)

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"There are several good candidates out there,” said the elder Johnson, but “you’ll have to ask Brendan about that.... I’ve discussed [the race] with [Brendan] and a lot of other people. But I’ve not discussed in detail what comes next.”

Republicans see picking up a seat in South Dakota, which has a deeply red state legislature and favored Mitt Romney over President Obama by 18 percentage points in November, as a key step toward claiming the six Senate seats they need to retake control of the chamber in 2014.

“Another retirement, an ugly rivalry, and a red state,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in an e-mail. “Add 'em all up and it's another rough day for Senate Democrats.”

Democrats have indeed suffered quite a few retirements this time around.

Johnson’s retirement is the fifth for Senate Democrats in the 2014 cycle, joining Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. That quintet joins Republican retirees Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Professional Senate watchers believe that, among the remaining open seats, Republicans have their strongest shot at capturing West Virginia and Iowa but have only an outside shot, at best, of nabbing Michigan.

Overall, however, the seven retirements during the 2014 election cycle mirror similar levels in the past three cycles – five senators walked away in 2008 followed by eight in 2010 and 10 in 2012.

Popular former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has joined the fray and showed a wide electoral edge over the younger Johnson but only the slimmest of margins versus Ms. Sandlin, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey. But the same poll also shows Rep. Kristi Noem (R) of South Dakota within striking distance: she would hold a general election advantage against the younger Johnson while a contest with Ms. Sandlin would be a dead heat.

[Editor's note: The original version stated the results of the Public Policy Polling poll incorrectly.]

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