Liberal stalwart David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, won't run again for House

Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, who entered Congress in 1969, will not seek reelection in the fall.
By Paul Kane and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 6, 2010

House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), a liberal lion first elected at the height of the Vietnam War in 1969, announced Wednesday he will not seek reelection in November -- a blow to Democratic chances of holding his northern Wisconsin seat.

At an emotional news conference in the committee's chambers, Obey said he was "bone tired" after a life of public service dating to joining the Wisconsin legislature in 1962.

"There is a time to stay and a time to go. And this is my time to go," Obey said.

Obey's committee gavel gives him oversight of more than $1 trillion in annual federal spending, but he was facing his toughest reelection battle in years, as Ashland County District Attorney Sean Duffy, a Republican, was running a promising campaign against him.

Duffy, a onetime cast member of the MTV reality show "The Real World," had garnered national attention from party leaders -- including an endorsement from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

"There is no question that David Obey was facing the race of his life, and that is why it is understandable that the architect of President Obama's failed stimulus plan has decided to call it quits," said National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Ken Spain.

Still, Duffy was considered something of a long shot against Obey, given the congressman's long tenure and deep campaign treasury (he ended March with $1.4 million in the bank). According to a source familiar with Obey's thinking, his decision was due in no small part to the passage of a health-care overhaul -- a long-standing priority for the Wisconsin Democrat.

Obey has had a political lock on the seat, drawing less than 60 percent of the vote in only his 1994 and 1996 reelection battles. However, the district is much more evenly divided politically. While President Obama took 56 percent of the vote in 2008, Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District split almost evenly in the 2004 and 2000 elections.

Of his potential Democratic successors, Obey said there were "six Democrats in the stable," each of whom he spoke with Wednesday morning to alert them of his plans. "I think any one of them is capable of winning," he said.

While Obey's retirement almost certainly ensures a more competitive race, Democratic strategists noted that every statewide Democrat in the past decade carried the 7th District.

Nationwide, House Republicans have focused their recruiting efforts on finding young, energetic challengers to veteran chairmen such as Obey. Republicans are also targeting House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (Mo.) and Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (S.C.) this fall.

Obey is the 17th Democrat who will leave at the end of this Congress. Twenty Republicans are vacating their seats to retire or run for higher office.

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