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U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, 89, a liberal Democrat from New Jersey, won't seek re-election

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Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., initially resigned from the Senate in 2000, after three terms, but was pressed back into service in 2003 when Democratic Sen. Bob Torricelli was forced by corruption allegations to end his 2002 re-election campaign. Getty Images

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By The Philadelphia Inquirer
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 8:42 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D.-N.J., the country's oldest serving senator, will not seek re-election next year.

Lautenberg, who turned 89 in January, announced that he would travel to his hometown of Paterson, N.J., on Friday to make a formal announcement.

“This is not the end of anything, but rather the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals, and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey,” he said in a statement released this afternoon. “While I may not be seeking re-election, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term, and I'm going to keep fighting as hard as ever for the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate.”

Lautenberg is one of the Senate's most liberal members. During his three decades of service, he's been a leader in public health initiatives. He pushed to raise the drinking age to 21, helped eliminate smoking on airplanes, and sponsored the last major gun control law.

A number of Democrats have expressed interest in running for Lautenberg's seat. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, whose youth, doggedness and presence on Twitter helped nationalize his profile, is considered a top contender. State Democrats had hoped that Booker, 43, would take on popular Republican Gov. Christie in the gubernatorial race this year. But Booker in December announced his preference to run for the Senate in 2014, whether or not Lautenberg stepped aside.

State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone have suggested they, too, might run for Lautenberg's seat.

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