Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio has joined a growing list of Republican senators who say they won't seek re-election in 2010, making the GOP's efforts to recapture control of the Senate more challenging than previously anticipated.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn acknowledged that the GOP faces a "competitive environment" in the 2010 elections for incumbents and new candidates. But, he said, the party already has identified several experienced and well-known candidates capable of raising campaign money to succeed Mr. Voinovich, who announced his decision Monday.
"At the end of the day, I am confident that our nominee will represent the values and priorities of the voters in the Buckeye State," the Texas senator said.
Rob Portman, a former Republican House representative and director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, has been speculated as a possible candidate for Mr. Voinovich's seat.
Since the November elections, four Republican senators - Mr. Voinovich and Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mel Martinez of Florida and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri - have announced that they will step down when their terms expire. Democrats currently hold 57-41 advantage in the Senate, with two vacancies.
"It's normal when you have one party go from the majority to the minority and [then] even further into the minority to have incumbents chose not to run again," said a senior Senate Republican aide. "It's certainly disappointing, but I don't think it was anything that was not expected."
The four Republican retirements also will allow for a fresh wave of candidates to run for the Senate, a prospect GOP officials say will energize the party's bid to win back seats it lost in 2006 and 2008.
"It's not an ideal scenario, but that being said, it is certainly helpful that these [retirements] are coming so early in the [election] cycle," said another senior Senate Republican aide. "It helps the Republicans' ability to have clarity in terms of what the [political] landscape's going to look like. So it's not the worst thing in the world."
The aide added that there was no guarantee Republicans would have been able to hang on to the four seats, as Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Martinez and Mr. Bond were expected to have faced tough challengers.
"You'd rather have someone who is 110 percent committed and their hearts in it, ready to do the work," the aide said. "Frankly, if they feel their hearts aren't in it, you want to have a candidate who is."
Mr. Voinovich, 72, said he decided to step down because he wouldn't be able to devote his full attention to his Senate duties if forced to campaign and raise money to run for a third term in 2010. He also cited a desire to spend more time with his family.
"Not since the Great Depression and the Second World War have we been confronted with such challenges, as a nation and as a world," he said. "These next two years in office for me will be the most important years that I have served in my entire political career.
Mr. Voinovich, Ohio's senior senator, broke party ranks in 2007 to express doubts about the Bush administration's troop "surge" in Iraq, writing to President Bush of the need for a "comprehensive plan for our country's gradual military disengagement from Iraq."
Mr. Voinovich, a former mayor of Cleveland, was re-elected to a second six-year term in 2004 with 64 percent of the vote. He serves on the Senate's Environment and Public Works, Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander called him "one of our finest senators."
"George Voinovich has given the people of Ohio and America his best years - as mayor, governor and senator," said Mr. Alexander, of Tennessee, adding that Mr. Voinovich "will be greatly missed."