Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2014, ending his Senate career after just one term.
The former governor's exit was not expected. He will leave an open seat that Republicans will be expected to win in a very red state.
"With everything in life, there is a time and a season," Johanns and his wife, Stephanie, wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "At the end of this term, we will have been in public service over 32 years. Between the two of us, we have been on the ballot for primary and general elections 16 times and we have served in eight offices. It is time to close this chapter of our lives."
Johanns is the fifth senator to announce his retirement since the 2012 election, joining Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).
While the races for some of those seats will be competitive, Nebraska is a tough state for Democrats. They had a top recruit in the state last year in former senator Bob Kerrey, but he wound up losing by 16 points to now-freshman Sen. Deb Fischer (R).
"The Cornhusker state will look to continue its strong conservative tradition by electing an equally dedicated Republican leader in 2014," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Potential GOP candidates for the seat include the two runners-up to Fischer in the 2012 primary -- state Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. But the heavy favorite, if he ran, would by Gov. Dave Heineman, who is term-limited in his current job in 2014.
Heineman was Johanns's lieutenant governor before ascending to the state's top job in January 2005, when Johanns was appointed agriculture secretary. Heineman's approval rating his been in the 60s and even the 70s for much of his tenure.
If he ran for Senate, it seems logical that other ambitious politicians would likely focus on the governor's race rather than the Senate race.
Still, Democrats immediately set about trying to define Heineman as an arch conservative, labeling his budget an "his ill-conceived tax plan to hurt Nebraska’s middle class."
"With Johanns’ retirement, the Nebraska Republican Party continues to define their future by skewing even more to the right..." state Democratic Party chairman Vince Powers said.
On the Democratic side, potential recruits could include Kerrey and 2008 nominee Scott Kleeb. But the Democratic bench in the state is thin, with Democrats holding no congressional seats or statewide offices.
Johanns last week was one of four Republicans to vote to bring former senator Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) nomination as defense secretary to a vote. Johanns occupies the seat once held by Hagel.
Following is Johanns' full e-mail to his supporters.
Dear Fellow Nebraskans,
We would like to share with you a decision we have made about running for re-election to the United States Senate.
We have decided not to seek re-election.
Words are inadequate to fully express our appreciation for the friendship and support you have given to us over the past three decades.
With everything in life, there is a time and a season. At the end of this term, we will have been in public service over 32 years. Between the two of us, we have been on the ballot for primary and general elections 16 times and we have served in eight offices. It is time to close this chapter of our lives.
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. We are also confident that there will be many more opportunities to serve our state and our nation.
We look forward to the remaining time in the Senate. It is an honor to have served in so many ways over so many years.
May God continue to bless Nebraska and our great nation.
Mike & Stephanie Johanns