Citing Health, GOP's Domenici Says He'll Retire From Senate

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

Sen. Pete V. Domenici told a gathering of family members and supporters in Albuquerque that he has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease and will not seek a seventh term next year.

Domenici's retirement represents the end of an era for both the Senate and New Mexico, where the Republican has been an institution for 35 years, and it opens up a seat in a swing state in 2008.

Although Domenici has struggled with various ailments in recent years, his party had hoped, with three other Senate Republicans having already announced their retirement, that he would hold on for one more term to limit the potential electoral damage. But Domenici, 75, said he has been diagnosed with frontotemporal lobar degeneration and that recent tests showed the disease to be progressing.

"The progress of this disease is apparently erratic and unpredictable," Domenici said, standing in front of St. Mary's Catholic School in the neighborhood where he grew up. "I am not willing to take a chance that the people who have so honored me with their trust for 40 years might not be served as well as they deserve."

Known as "St. Pete" back home, in part for the copious federal funding that he has delivered, Domenici hit a political bump recently when he was ensnared in the controversy over the firings of federal prosecutors, including a U.S. attorney in New Mexico. But Democrats had remained skeptical that they could beat the popular Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Domenici "a giant," and Democrats also praised him generously in statements and Senate floor speeches.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Domenici has served honorably, but added: "We feel very good about our chances to increase the Democratic majority in the Senate next year."

Rep. Heather A. Wilson (N.M.) is one Republican expected to seek Domenici's seat. Democrats would like to lure Gov. Bill Richardson, who is currently running for president, to launch a Senate bid.

A former college baseball pitcher, Domenici was elected to the Albuquerque City Commission in 1966 and to the Senate in 1972, becoming the first Republican to hold the seat in almost 40 years.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company