In a surprising about-face, Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., won’t be running for reelection, two Republican sources familiar with his decision have told National Journal. His decision comes several weeks after winning the Republican primary in his district.
Redistricted out of his old seat, Johnson had been a leading target for House Democrats. But the party’s favored candidate appears to have narrowly lost the primary, allowing Johnson to face David Gill, a Democrat he easily defeated in three of the last four elections.
Johnson's unexpected decision to retire, first reported on Wednesday by Illinois-based Capitol Fax, was confirmed by two senior Republican officials, including one House leadership aide. The news even caught local GOP officials in Johnson’s Champaign County by surprise.
Telephone calls and messages to Johnson’s Washington and district offices were not returned.
First elected in 2000, the 65-year-old Johnson has over the years displayed some maverick -- and unconventional -- tendencies. He bucked the Republican administration on the war in Iraq, and was one of 17 House Republicans in early 2007 who voted for a resolution opposing President Bush’s troop “surge” plan. In June 2008, he cited the impact on civil liberties when he was the only Republican to vote against renewal of the law to permit a secret court to approve intelligence surveillance, which the House passed 293-129.
Around the Capitol, Johnson is seen constantly walking the hallways outside the House chamber while talking on his cell phone, fixated on his much-publicized effort of trying to make personal contact with each of his more than 600,000 constituents. Under redistricting, that long phone list was going to be significantly altered.
But according to Capitol Fax, Johnson had decided he can retire now because he believes the seat is not as competitive for another Republican with Gill as the Democratic nominee. It will now be up to local Republicans to select a nominee to run in Illinois’ new 13th District.
Johnson will be the 24th representative during the 112th Congress to announce retirement -- 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans.