Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns won't seek a second term next year, saying he wants a "quieter time" with his wife and family after three decades in public office.
The freshman becomes the fifth senator -- and second Republican along with Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss -- to announce in recent weeks they would retire after their terms expire.
In an email to constituents Monday co-signed by his wife, Stephanie, the 62-year-old former two-term governor said "it is time to close this chapter of our lives."
"With everything in life, there is a time and a season," the couple wrote. "During these many years, we have cherished our time together. So as we think about the next stage of our lives, we want a quieter time with our focus on each other, our family and our faith."
They both served together on the Lancaster County Commission and are considered among the state's most powerful political couples.
The news comes as a surprise as the unassuming Republican was expected to have an easy path toward re-election. His retirement gives Democrats a shot at capturing a seat they previously had little hope of winning, though the GOP holds a firm grip on the state.
The Senate -- wrought with gridlock in recent years -- can be a frustrating place for former governors used to wielding more autonomy, said Jennifer Duffy, who covers the Senate for the Cook Political Report.
And with no obvious Republican to fill Mr. Johanns' seat, it's difficult to handicap the race.
"Still, it's a really tough state for (Democrats)," Ms. Duffy said.
Rumors circulated last year that Mr. Johanns wouldn't seek re-election, fueled in part by speculation he had cancer after doctors discovered a spot on his lung. No cancer was said to be found and the Republican, who easily won the seat in 2008 with almost 58 percent of the vote, signaled he had no intentions to step down.
Mr. Johanns began his political career in 1983 as a county commissioner before twice being elected mayor of Lincoln. During his second term as governor in 2005 he was appointed secretary of agriculture by President George W. Bush. He resigned from the Cabinet in 2007 to run for the seat vacated by former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, who was nominated last month by President Obama to be defense secretary.
The state's other Republican senator, Deb Fischer, said "few Nebraskans have served in so many different roles and had such a tremendous impact in each one of them."
"His rare mix of strong leadership and warm collegiality has earned him the respect and admiration of his colleagues from both sides of the aisle," Mrs. Fischer said. "While I am fortunate to have two more years to serve alongside him, I am sad to see Mike leave the Senate."
In another surprise move last month, Mr. Chambliss said he wouldn't seek a third term in 2014, saying he was frustrated with President Obama's lack of leadership and a "dearth of meaningful action from Congress."
The other senators who have said they won't seek re-election are Democrats Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, John Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa.
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