Virginia state Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. announced his retirement. (AP Photo/ Bristol Herald-Courier, David Crigger) (David Crigger/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

And, already, Del. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) said he is “seriously contemplating” running for Wampler’s seat.

In a statement, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said Wampler, 51, has served Southwest Virginia with “character and conviction.”

“His public service has left Virginia a better place than he found it,” McDonnell said.

Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania) serves with Wampler on the powerful Senate Finance Committee and, like Wampler, is a budget negotiator for the chamber. He said he was “disappointed” to hear of Wampler’s decision. Houck succeeded Wampler as chairman of the money panel’s health and human resource’s subcommittee when Democrats won the chamber in 2007.

“He was a partner,” Houck said. “We worked cooperatively together. We parked the partisanship at the door and tried to bring about meaningful change.”

Wampler — first elected to the Senate at age 27 — said in an interview that he looked forward to a quieter life in Bristol, without so many five-hour commutes to Richmond.

“Sometimes, you just know when it’s time,” he said. “I think it’s entirely consistent with a citizen legislature to reflect on 24 years and say it’s time to go back home.”

Wampler said he believes the GOP has a “fifty-fifty” chance of winning back the Senate in November, an outcome that would have handed him the Finance Committee chairmanship, the most powerful job in the chamber. But he said he was ready to leave.

“I’ve logged at least half a million miles in roundtrips to Richmond, a couple thousand nights there. That does wear on you after a while,” he said.

Wampler predicted a spirited race to fill the seat, with multiple candidates from both parties. He said he alerted Carrico of his decision Thursday, and he indicated he thought Carrico would be “a great candidate.”

Carrico said he has spoken to McDonnell and Senate Minority Leader . Tommy Norment about a possible campaign. He said he will make a decision in coming days. Carrico ran unsuccessfully for Congress in the area in 2006, and his delegate’s district includes much of Wampler’s senate district.

“I know the district extremely,” he said. “It’s a good fit.”

Despite the kind words for Carrico, Wampler said he may not endorse in the race.

“I’ve learned over the years, it’s best to let the local folks take a crack at it,” Wampler said.