Rep. Bart Gordon, a 13-term congressman from Tennessee, announced Monday he will not seek re-election next year, the latest Democrat in a string of retirements.
Gordon, 60, won re-election easily last year, garnering 74 percent of the vote, but was still on a list of Democrats targeted by Republicans in midterm elections.
"Turning 60 has led me to do some thinking about what's next," he said in a statement. "I have an 8-year-old daughter and a wonderful wife who has a very demanding job, and I am the only child of my 83-year-old mother Margaret. They have made sacrifices to allow me to do what I love by serving Congress, and now it's my turn."
Gordon is the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology. He was first elected in 1984, after Al Gore gave up his seat to run for the Senate. He beat Steve Gill, a lawyer and later radio talk show host, by just 2,200 votes out of 180,000 cast in that race. He defeated Gill more comfortably in a rematch two years later, and has since cruised to re-election.
The 6th Congressional District includes 15 counties that range east from Nashville's fast-growing suburbs to the Cumberland Plateau. GOP candidate John McCain carried the district by 25 percentage points last year over Barack Obama.
Gordon's announcement comes less than two weeks after fellow Tennessee Democratic Rep. John Tanner said he was retiring after 11 terms in Congress. That prompted Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron to drop his gubernatorial bid to instead seek Tanner's seat.
Gordon and Tanner had both drawn GOP challengers, as had Tennessee Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis.
Andy Sere, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that Gordon's retirement "is yet another indication that Tennessee Democrats like Roy Herron and Lincoln Davis are fighting uphill in 2010." The NRCC has been assailing Gordon for his votes on health care, the federal stimulus package and on carbon cap-and-trade legislation.
U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement, "We are confident that a Democrat who shares Chairman Gordon's commitment to putting progress before partisanship on behalf of Middle Tennessee will succeed him as the next representative of Tennessee's 6th District."
Lou Ann Zelenik has stepped down as chairwoman of the Rutherford County Republican Party to focus on her challenge for Gordon's seat, while Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy's campaign manager, Mike McCrady, said Monday that Tracy is running for the seat.
Tracy is a Shelbyville insurance agent, former NCAA basketball referee and current chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Henry Fincher, a Harvard-educated attorney from Cookeville, said he is considering joining the race.
"I'm sure I have a lot of company in mulling it over," he said.
Fincher, who has been a vocal supporter of gun rights and an opponent of abortion rights in the state legislature, said he expects a Democrat with "rural values" to have a strong showing.
"A pro-life, pro-gun Democrat can go toe-to-toe with anybody the GOP has to offer," he said.
Gordon cited among his accomplishments passage of the "America Competes Act," which called for increased spending on math and science programs.
"With the challenges our country faces, we have laid the foundation to rebuild our economy based on innovation, investments in research, and a sustained commitment to math and science education," he said. "For these reasons, I am committed to reauthorizing both the America Competes Act and NASA in the coming year."
Last week, Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., announced he would not seek re-election next year so he can spend more time with his family and pursue other ways to serve.
Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this story from Nashville