Sen. Voinovich of Ohio to retire

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - U.S. Sen. George Voinovich confirmed Monday he will not seek re-election in 2010, ending a storied career in Ohio politics and becoming the fourth incumbent GOP senator to leave an open seat for Democrats to contest in two years.

Voinovich, 72, said in a statement that the challenges facing the state and country will require him to devote all of his energy to serving out his current term. Campaigning and fundraising would take time away from his work as a senator, he said.

"Those of us that have been given the honor to serve in these times must step up to the plate and put this country on a course that will see it through these harrowing times and make it strong and viable for the 21st century," Voinovich said.

Voinovich, who planned a news conference later Monday, also said he wants to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. He served as mayor of Cleveland and a two-term governor before his election to the Senate in 1998. He was considered a strong favorite for re-election if he had chosen to seek a third term in 2010.

In recent weeks, Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, Mel Martinez of Florida and Sam Brownback of Kansas have all announced plans to retire in 2010. The decision sets in motion a jockeying among big names in both parties to replace Ohio's senior senator.

Former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman of Cincinnati is figured to be a strong contender among Republicans to run for the Ohio Senate seat. Portman released a statement Monday praising Voinovich, but did not speak at all of his own plans.

"His countless contributions to our state and to our nation will be felt for many years to come," Portman said.

Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Zack Space are potential Democratic candidates.

Speculation had risen in recent days that Voinovich wouldn't seek re-election to the seat, after insisting as recently as last summer he was definitely running. His decision not to run was more bad news for Republicans.

Democrats, who are just shy of a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate, will be on the offensive in the races for four open seats. Voinovich was a strong supporter of a proposed federal bailout for the auto industry, which put him at odds with a significant portion of the GOP caucus.

He released a strong statement following the failure of the bailout, saying the politics of his colleagues had "failed" the auto industry. Voinovich has been considered a political moderate, often frustrating or puzzling more ideologically minded advocates who didn't want him to straddle the center. Voinovich's ability not to worry about re-election is likely to further embolden a man who was often known for speaking his mind.

Democrats had viewed Voinovich as vulnerable, given a political climate that has drastically shifted in Democrats' favor in recent years.

A Quinnipiac University poll from late last year found that only 44 percent of Ohio voters said he deserves to be re-elected. The same poll gave him an approval rating of 51 percent, just a percentage point above the threshold that pollsters say signifies vulnerability for an incumbent.

 (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)