In a surprise announcement, Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) said Monday that he won’t run for reelection next year, a decision that could hinder his party's chances of reclaiming the House majority.
“I have made the decision not to seek reelection next year for another term in Congress," Boren said. "It was based on the demands of constant campaigning, and most importantly, spending too much time away from my family, which includes two very young children."
He promised to remain focused on his official duties and thanked his family, staff and supporters.
Boren, 37, is the only Democrat in Oklahoma's five-seat House delegation, and his district is ripe territory for the GOP. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) carried it with 66 percent of the vote. The district was previously held by Sen. Tom Coburn, a staunchly conservative Republican.
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to retake the gavel from Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) next year.
Boren's decision to quit came as a shock to Oklahoma Democrats, who don't have a clear successor. "I never had any idea that he was not planning to run for reelection," said Wallace Collins, the state party chairman.
Collins said state Sen. Jim Wilson (D), who challenged Boren in a primary last year, could run again.
"I'd have to say he'd be the first name that comes to mind," said Collins.
Wilson challenged the four-term incumbent in the primary last year after Boren bucked his party on healthcare and voted against the Democrats' reform bill. He easily survived the primary and handily won reelection in November, with 57 percent of the vote. He was one of the 26 lawmakers in the House's formerly 54-member Blue Dog coalition to survive the 2010 Republican wave.
He was a top GOP target last cycle and was expected to be such again in 2012.
The National Republican Congressional Committee called Boren "the last of a dying breed of Democrats who are no longer welcome" in the party.
Possible candidates on the GOP side include state Sens. George Faught and Josh Brecheen, former state lawmaker Tad Jones and 2010 nominee Charles Thompson.
State GOP Chairman Matt Pinnell said he wasn't worried about a tough primary.
"I think primaries are healthy," he said. "The primary was healthy two years ago for Charles Thompson."
Coburn's blessing could be key for the Republicans. "If there's a kingmaker in the 2nd congressional district, it would be Tom Coburn. It's Tom's old seat," said Pinnell, who noted the state party would stay neutral in the primary.
Meanwhile, Coburn's 2004 opponent, former Democratic Rep. Brad Carson, said Tuesday that he plans to run for the seat. Carson raised more than $6 million for his race against Coburn — some $1 million more than the Republican — though he lost by 12 points.
The Democrats could also benefit from the more than $1 million Boren has banked in his campaign account.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) expressed confidence Democrats would retain the seat.
"We look forward to electing a Democrat next November who will fight against the Republicans’ plan to end Medicare and will represent the middle class families of this district," he said in a statement.
Retirements could be an issue for Israel as he looks to reclaim the House majority.
The Senate Democratic leadership has been pressuring its members to make decisions early about leaving office so they can better prepare for the open-seat races. But Israel said last week he wasn’t pressuring his members to make that call.
“Republicans have more to lose from their rumored retirements than we have,” Israel said. “That’s because, if you look at the Republican rumored retirements, they’re in districts that we can win. So the retirement dynamic disfavors Republicans and favors us.”
Boren is the first House incumbent to retire this year and not seek higher office.
He announced his decision at a press conference in Muskogee, his hometown, possibly ending a long Oklahoma political dynasty.
The congressman's grandfather, Lyle Boren, served in the House during the first half of the 20th century, and his father, David, served in the Senate and held the governor's office. His family's political clout help Boren get elected to the House in 2004 at 31.