Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan said he won’t seek a seventh term, becoming the fourth Senate Democrat to announce plans to retire after 2014.
Levin, 78, said yesterday in a statement that he wants to spend his last two years in Congress “without the distraction of campaigning for re-election.” He said he will work to improve military readiness and combat “the use of secret money to fund political campaigns.”
The decision by Levin, re-elected in 2008 with 63 percent of the vote, improves Republicans’ chances of picking up the Senate seat, depending on who decides to run. President Barack Obama carried Michigan in November by 54 percent to Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 45 percent.
“‘An open seat is a better opportunity for Republicans than facing Levin,” said Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “But we have to see who the nominees are. The burden of proof is on the Republicans to make it a race.”
Spencer Abraham, who was defeated by Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow after serving one term, is the last Republican to represent Michigan in the Senate. He was elected in 1994.
“Republicans are going to have to find a quality candidate” to win in Michigan, Gonzales said.
Levin’s announcement prompted the Cook Political Report, also based in Washington, to change its rating for the Michigan Senate race from “solid Democratic” to “lean Democratic.”
Levin’s retirement “puts Michigan in play,” Cook senior editor Jennifer Duffy said in an e-mail.
Duffy said possible candidates include Democratic U.S. Representatives Gary Peters and Dan Kildee and Detroit businesswoman Denise Ilitch. Possible Republican candidates are U.S. Representatives Justin Amash, Candice Miller and Mike Rogers, and state Attorney General Bill Schuette.
Democrats may try to persuade former Governor Jennifer Granholm to run, though she may not be “the strongest candidate they have,” Duffy said.
Abraham was the only Michigan Republican elected to the Senate since 1972, when Robert Griffin won a second term. Six years later Levin defeated Griffin.
“Their track record isn’t too good, and they don’t have any obvious candidates right now,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics. Still, he said Republicans “do a lot better” in an election when the presidency isn’t at stake, and 2014 will be such a year.
Besides Levin, Democratic senators Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa have said they won’t run again. Democrats control 55 votes in the 100-seat Senate.
Two Republicans in the Senate, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, have announced they won’t seek re- election in 2014.
Democrats will have 21 seats up for re-election in the Senate next year, compared with 14 for Republicans. Last year, Democrats picked up two Senate seats, although they were defending 23 compared with 10 for the Republicans.
Obama praised Levin in a statement yesterday that said, “If you’ve ever worn the uniform, worked a shift on an assembly line, or sacrificed to make ends meet, then you’ve had a voice and a vote in Senator Carl Levin.”
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a member of the armed-services panel, in a statement praised Levin’s “steady and principled leadership” for keeping the panel a “haven of comity and bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized Washington.”
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in an e-mailed statement that he was confident Democrats “will recruit a great Democratic leader who will continue to fight for the values and priorities Senator Levin advocated for all these years.”
“We fully expect to keep Michigan blue in November 2014,” Bennet said.
Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the Senate Republican campaign effort, said in an e-mail that Levin’s retirement “offers us a real pickup opportunity.”
Levin is Michigan’s longest-serving senator and the younger brother of Representative Sander Levin, 81, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
The senator, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said he would use the panel to prod the Internal Revenue Service into tougher enforcement of rules governing nonprofits that engage in political activity. Some political groups have organized as social welfare organizations, allowing them to spend money on campaigns without disclosing donors.
He said he wants to end “egregious tax loopholes” that increase the budget deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars and “add to the tax burden of ordinary Americans who have to pick up the slack.”
He led an investigation that reported in 2005 that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his family stashed as much as $15 million in hidden accounts at Citigroup Inc. and the former Washington-based Riggs Bank.
Levin was among 23 senators who opposed the 2002 resolution that authorized President George W. Bush to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein. Levin maintained that Bush had failed to build an international coalition to share the military burden.
As the Iraq war became unpopular he pushed for troop withdrawals, saying military stability could be achieved only by a political settlement among the Kurd, Sunni and Shiite factions.
Now, Levin supports Obama’s goal of completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
“I also believe we need to pursue the rapid transfer of responsibility for Afghan security to the Afghans,” Levin said in yesterday’s statement. “As our troops come home, we must do a better job of caring for those who bear both the visible and invisible wounds of war.”
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