U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) (Steve Helber/AP)

Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.) will retire at the end of the term, he announced Wednesday.

Hurt, a former member of the Virginia legislature, was first elected to Congress in 2010, defeating Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello. He represents central Virginia’s 5th District.

“When I think back on my first run for public office, I never envisioned making this a career,” Hurt said in a statement. “I ran because I believed then as I do now that every citizen should contribute in his or her own way to ensure a vibrant representative democracy. But I also believed then as I do now that it is not our elected leaders who make our country great, but it is, rather, the private citizen and the private economy that make this country great.”

He plans to return to private life, he said.

State Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (Buckingham) announced Wednesday afternoon that he would run for Hurt’s seat.

“These are dangerous times. My background as a combat arms veteran, prosecutor, and pro liberty legislator make me the best candidate to protect America from Islamic extremism abroad and fiscal imprudence at home,” Garrett said in a statement.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, a Pittsylvania County native, is also considering a bid. Haymore held his same post under McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, former governor Robert F. McDonnell, and worked for former 5th district representative L.F. Payne (D) in the 1990s.

“I am flattered and humbled by the outreach and encouragement I’ve received over the last 24 hours from folks across Virginia,” he said.

Haymore’s statement did not specify which party banner he would run under. He has described himself in the past as a political independent. He could not be reached for comment.

Hurt’s retirement was first reported Tuesday on Twitter by Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

His decision came as a surprise to many Republicans in the state. He had not given any public indication that he planned to leave office after three terms, and he has regularly won reelection by wide margins. Although some Democratic candidates have come within striking distance here since Perriello’s narrow 2008 victory, the sprawling district has consistently gone to Republicans.

An affable lawyer from rural Pittsylvania County, Hurt came to Congress bitterly opposed by some tea party activists back home who preferred more conservative candidates. But despite his establishment roots, he has managed to avoid a primary, sometimes bucking GOP leadership and taking time to explain his votes when he didn’t.

“With Robert in Washington, it was like having your next-door neighbor speak for you in Congress,” said state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin), who chaired the 5th District Republican Committee when Hurt was first elected. “It is a sad day for the 5th District, and those are pretty big shoes that would have to be filled.”

He said he would consider a bid to fill them himself. Another Republican state lawmaker who could run for the seat is Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (Fauquier). The district reaches from the Charlottesville suburbs to the border of North Carolina.

Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats, praised Hurt for working across the aisle on local concerns.

“I’m grateful for his partnership as we continue to fight back against attempts to derail the construction of an embassy security training facility at Fort Pickett,” Kaine said.

Another potential candidate is Todd Haymore, a Pittsylvania County native who serves as state agriculture secretary under Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and for McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, former governor Robert F. McDonnell.

A court challenge to district boundaries in the state that has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court could affect the 5th.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Chris Pack called Hurt "a strong voice in Washington for his constituents." He added that "we fully expect to keep Virginia’s 5th District in Republican control." 

Two Democrats are running in the primary for Hurt’s seat: former Perriello staff member Ericke Cage and Albemarle County Supervisor Jane Dittmar.