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S.D. Sen. Johnson retires for family, health reasons

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Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson said Tuesday it is time to "close a circle that began 36 years ago" and leave the upper chamber in Washington when his term expires in 2014.

Mr. Johnson told an audience at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion that the time has come to retire from public office and spend time with his grandchildren, acknowledging that a life-threatening brain injury has left him in poorer health even though he "feels great" and — in one of a several doses of humor — asserted he could have won his seat again.

"I've never been beaten," he told a reporter.

His retirement hurts the Democrats' hopes of holding their majority for the last two years of President Obama's second term, given that Republicans tout several strong candidates in a state that favored Mitt Romney by 20 percentage points in November.

Republicans need to win a net of six seats to win back the Senate, and the South Dakota seat appears to be just one of several that are potentially within their grasp.

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia also plans to retire, putting a second seat in play in a state that overwhelmingly rejected Mr. Obama in November.

Sens. Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Carl Levin of Michigan, are also retiring, and former Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts stepped down from his seat after being confirmed as secretary of state. Each of the states favored Mr. Obama in November, but their Senate seats cannot be considered a lock for the Democrats, especially in an off-year election without the name-recognition and other advantages of incumbency.

On the Republican side of the aisle, Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Johanns of Nebraska have announced they will leave at the end of their current term. Mr. Romney won both states comfortably in 2012.

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