Tim Johnson is the seventh US senator to bow out of a reelection bid in 2014, giving Republicans their best shot to pick up a seat. But conservatives are eager not to elect a GOP moderate.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D) of South Dakota announced that he would not seek a fourth term on Tuesday, leaving a political opening for Republicans hoping to take back the Senate and creating a key vacancy at the top of the powerful Senate Banking Committee he chairs.
“I’m 68 years old this next session and as much as [his wife] Barbara would like for me to run again, I have to say no,” Senator Johnson said in a press conference at his alma mater, the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, that was punctuated with frequent laughter. “I’ve run for election 36 years in a row and it’s now time to give it up. It will be strange, but I’m certain that I can get over it.”
Johnson cruised to victory in his 2008 reelection campaign with more than 60 percent of the vote, even after suffering a stroke in 2006. He returned to the Senate the following year to adulation from his colleagues and well-wishes from President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address.
Johnson’s departure leaves much unsettled about the 2014 Senate contest in South Dakota for both political parties.
Johnson was coy about the Democrat who would succeed him as the party’s choice for the seat. His son, Brendan, the US attorney in the Mount Rushmore State, is poised to run but lacks political bona fides beyond his bloodline. Former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) could also get into the mix.
"There are several good candidates out there,” said the elder Johnson, but “you’ll have to ask Brendan about that.... I’ve discussed [the race] with [Brendan] and a lot of other people. But I’ve not discussed in detail what comes next.”
Republicans see picking up a seat in South Dakota, which has a deeply red state legislature and favored Mitt Romney over President Obama by 18 percentage points in November, as a key step toward claiming the six Senate seats they need to retake control of the chamber in 2014.
“Another retirement, an ugly rivalry, and a red state,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in an e-mail. “Add 'em all up and it's another rough day for Senate Democrats.”
Democrats have indeed suffered quite a few retirements this time around.
Johnson’s retirement is the fifth for Senate Democrats in the 2014 cycle, joining Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. That quintet joins Republican retirees Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.