STRUGGLING, DODD WON’T SEEK RE-ELECTION…. When Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) announced yesterday afternoon that he would step down at the end of his term, he was the first incumbent Democratic senator in this Congress to declare his retirement plans. We learned of the second just a few hours later.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the embattled Connecticut Democrat who was facing an increasingly tough bid for a sixth term in the United States Senate, has decided not to seek re-election this year, Democrats familiar with his plans said Wednesday.

Mr. Dodd, 65, a pivotal figure in the major debates now confronting Congress, is to announce his decision at a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Connecticut. […]

In this case, Mr. Dodd was already considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats facing re-election this November, and party officials had been privately hoping he would step aside.

The odds of Dodd’s re-election were, to be sure, quite poor. About a month ago, the non-partisan Cook Political Report made Connecticut’s Senate race “Lean Republican” for the first time, making Dodd the only Democratic incumbent favored to lose. The analysis concluded that Dodd is “just too badly damaged to have a decent shot at getting re-elected, almost regardless of who wins the Republican nomination,” adding that the incumbent “is about as unelectable as unindicted incumbents get.” About a week later, the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza ranked Dodd’s seat the single most likely to change party hands in 2010.

Still, it seemed hard to imagine a senator of Dodd’s stature losing re-election in a reliably “blue” state. I’ve talked to plenty of Democratic insiders in recent months who thought a Dodd comeback was going to happen eventually, polls be damned. Dodd seems to have come to a different conclusion.

Republicans were publicly giddy about Dodd’s retirement news, talking up the idea that somehow Dems are fleeing to the exits en masse. But while Dorgan’s retirement offers the GOP genuinely good news, Dodd’s departure is the polar opposite — Republicans expected to beat Dodd in November, and their chances of flipping this seat just dropped considerably.

Indeed, with Dodd stepping down this year, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) is likely to step up, and will be favored to win. The GOP is crowing, but Dodd’s retirement is welcome news for Democrats, not discouraging.

That said, it’s a genuine shame to see Dodd’s often-brilliant career end on a sour note. A progressive champion, Dodd has had a direct role in shaping many of the recent domestic policy milestones, from the Family and Medical Leave Act in the Clinton era, to this year’s health care reform legislation.

Dodd’s public standing, however, took a major hit in 2008 with reports of a controversial home loan from Countrywide Financial, the fallen subprime company. The Senate Ethics Committee later concluded that there was “no credible evidence” that Dodd had violated any rules, but the damage was already done.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.