Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2012, putting a battleground seat Democrats have held for over five decades squarely in play for the upcoming elections.
"I am announcing today that I will not seek another term as your senator," Kohl said at a press conference in Milwaukee. "Rather, I will continue to devote all my energy and time in the next nineteen months to see to it that the people in our state are well-served."
"I've always believed it's better to leave a job too early than a little too late, and that's how I feel today," he added.
Kohl is the sixth senator who caucuses with the Democrats to retire this year. Two Republican senators have announced their retirement. Kohl turned 76 years old in 2011 and has been serving in the Senate since 1989.
Wisconsin has been a national battleground, thanks to GOP Gov. Scott Walker's high-profile battle against labor unions and collective bargaining. Already both parties have geared up politically, in a recent high-profile state Supreme Court race, and are also preparing for recall attempts against several sitting state senators.
Several high-profile candidates have already been mentioned as possible targets for both parties. Republicans' top candidate would be House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, whose budget plan tackling entitlement spending has made him a national figure. And Democrats could turn to former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost re-election in 2010, for a political comeback.
"Senator Kohl has served the state with honor. He will be remembered for his advocacy for our state's dairy farmers, his work on behalf of children and his keen understanding of our state's business community," Feingold said in a statement. "I sincerely wish him all the best."
"I was surprised by Senator Kohl's announcement and want to take some time over the next few days to discuss this news with my family and supporters before making any decision about how I'm best able to serve my employers in the First Congressional District, our state and nation," said Ryan.
Other Republican candidates include: Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen, and former Feingold challengers Tim Michels and Mark Neumann.
"We have not committed fully to running at this point," Neumann told Hotline On Call Friday morning. "If we were to get in to the race, I was looking forward to running against [Kohl's] record," he added.
Neumann said he does not believe that Kohl's retirement significantly changes his decision making-process or timeline for making a decision. Neumann told Hotline On Call in April that before he makes any decision, he wants to know what Ryan's plans are.