Nebraska Republican to bow out in '14

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

LINCOLN — U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2014, saying he wants a “quieter time” to focus on his family.

The former governor's exit was not expected. He will leave an open seat that Republicans will be expected to win in a solidly red state.

Johanns is the fifth senator to announce his retirement since the 2012 election, joining Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

While the races for some of those seats will be competitive, Nebraska is a tough state for Democrats. They had a top recruit in the state last year in former senator Bob Kerrey, but he wound up losing by 16 points to Republican Deb Fischer.

“The Cornhusker state will look to continue its strong conservative tradition by electing an equally dedicated Republican leader in 2014,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Johanns, whose career included a stint as President George W. Bush's agriculture secretary, is retiring after one term.

He said he and his wife, Stephanie — a former state lawmaker — had endured a combined 16 primary and general-election campaigns together. They held eight different offices over the course of 32 years.

“That's enough,” Johanns said. “We just felt, both Steph and I, that it was time. That's really what we talked most about. We always said we'd know when it was time. And it was time.”

Johanns, 62, joined the U.S. Senate in 2009 and did not appear to face any re-election threat.

Several Republican office-holders praised Johanns for his collegiality and thoughtfulness in a deeply divided Washington. Johanns was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that tried to negotiate a federal deficit-reduction deal in 2011.

His departure could leave an opening for GOP Gov. Dave Heineman, who is leaving office in 2015 because of term limits.

Heineman was courted by national party officials when Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson announced in 2011 that he was retiring. But Heineman declined to enter the race at the time, saying he wanted to focus on his work as governor.

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