Nebraska Governor Early Frontrunner to Succeed Retiring Senator Mike Johanns

In a Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 file photo, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Johanns announced Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 that he will not seek re-election in 2014, explaining he wants a "quieter time" to focus on his family following a busy political career. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (National Journal)

Nebraska GOP Sen. Mike Johanns announced Monday that he won't seek re-election, declaring that he was retiring from politics after a decades-long career in public office.

"With everything in life, there is a time and a season," Johanns and his wife, Stephanie, wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "At the end of this term, we will have been in public service over 32 years.  Between the two of us, we have been on the ballot for primary and general elections 16 times and we have served in eight offices. It is time to close this chapter of our lives."

Johanns had served as  Nebraska's governor from 1999 to 2005 before taking over as President George W. Bush's agriculture secretary. In an otherwise bad election year for Republicans, he easily won election in 2008, winning 58 percent of the vote.  He was up for re-election in 2014.  He was one of only two Senate Republicans to announce support for President Obama's selection for Secretary of Defense, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel.

Johanns's retirement likely won't give Democrats much of an opportunity for a pick up in the deeply Republican state. Republican Sen. Deb Fischer easily defeated former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey last year, winning nearly 60 percent of the vote.

"The Cornhusker state will look to continue its strong conservative tradition by electing an equally dedicated Republican leader in 2014," National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Jerry Moran said in a statement.

The leading candidate to succeed Johanns is current Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, according to a senior Republican operative.  Heineman, who has served two full terms since 2005, as Nebraska's governor, is term-limited from running again in 2014.

Even with Heineman in the race, Johanns' departure raises the possibility of a heated primary, much like the one Fischer won to claim the Republican nomination before beating Kerrey.  The Club for Growth supported state Treasurer Don Stenberg, a frequently unsuccessful statewide candidate, who could also explore a run for the open seat. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning  ran in the 2012 Republican primary, but was attacked from the right for being insufficiently conservative.

Johanns is the fifth senator to announce his retirement, following Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.