Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) will not seek a second term in office, he said in a statement Wednesday.
"After much thought and consideration, I have decided to return to the private sector, where I have spent most of my professional life, and will not seek re-election in 2012," Webb said in a statement his office released today.
Webb narrowly beat then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in 2006, providing Democrats the 51st seat they needed to win control of the upper chamber. His departure is a blow to Democrats, who privately acknowledge they will have a difficult time holding the seat without Webb running again.
Allen is seeking to return to the Senate after six years out of office. He will face a challenger who is striving for the Tea Party mantle in activist Jamie Radtke, but Allen remains the front-runner in both the primary and the general elections.
Democrats aren't completely willing to give up on the seat. Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine, the former Virginia governor, has said he will not run, but informed speculation is that he would reconsider if Webb decided against a bid. Some Democrats have also pointed to ex-Rep. Tom Perriello (D), who lost his seat in 2010 but who has not ruled out a future run for office.
If Democrats get a top-tier contender in the race against Allen, the contest could remain a tight battle. President Obama, who will be on the ballot in 2012, won Virginia by six points in 2008, and the state will be one of his campaign's key targets.
Webb is the second Democrat to say he won't run for re-election, along with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) (Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, has also said he will quit Congress). With so many other Democrats facing their own difficult challenges, Webb's decision not to run again raises serious questions about Democrats' ability to hold on to a majority in the upper chamber. Republicans would need four seats to take over control.