Former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent (R) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Thursday that he will not challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) in 2012. Talent, originally thought to be a likely contender in the race, has in recent weeks sparked widespread speculation that he would pass on a bid. Now that he's making it official, the Republican primary field is expected to expand quickly.
"There's just a lot of unfinished business that is a top priority for me, and that is where my interest and my passions are. I thought I could serve my country and my family better by continuing that work," Talent told the paper. "I talked to my political advisers and asked, can I run and keep doing all these things at the same time? They said, 'No, you cant.'"
Talent said he would formally announce his decision not to run via a statement tomorrow. He told the paper he believed he would have been a strong candidate, but that the race would be difficult.
Sources close to Talent said the former senator has known for weeks that he didn't have the fire in his belly to run a competitive statewide race in 2012.
As for what role he could potentially play in a Mitt Romney administration -- Talent served as a senior advisor to the former Massachusetts governor's 2008 campaign and recently traveled with Romney on his Middle East trip -- Talent told the Post-Dispatch it was too soon to say. "Should he decide to run, I want to be in a position to help him," he said.
Former Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) is currently the only Republican in the Senate race, but Talent's exit makes the possibility of a large, contentious Republican primary more likely. Republican National Committee chair candidate Ann Wagner (R) has said she is considering the race, and that she wouldn't run if Talent decided to get in. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R) is considering a run for the Senate as well and her verdict will also be motivated by Talent's decision.
Other Missouri Republicans who've said they are considering the race include Rep. Sam Graves (R) and 2010 congressional candidate Ed Martin (R).