Veteran Illinois U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson intends to drop his bid for a seventh term and retire, a Republican official said Wednesday.
Johnson was expected to make a public announcement of his decision Thursday, said the official, who spoke directly with Johnson but would confirm the decision only on condition of anonymity in order not to pre-empt the congressman's formal announcement.
The reason for the 65-year-old Johnson's decision was not clear, but the official said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Johnson, known for taking positions at odds with his party colleagues and his attempts to call every resident of his district, was considered a strong candidate for re-election in November to his seat in eastern Illinois' 13th Congressional District. He is just two weeks removed from a primary victory over two candidates.
Despite a new congressional district map drawn by Illinois Democrats, national Republicans had largely considered Johnson's seat safe in the November election. Johnson felt secure enough to stay in Washington during Illinois' primary election last month where he easily won the GOP nomination over two challengers.
But national Democrats had targeted the seat as a potential pickup in their efforts to reverse Republican gains in Illinois congressional seats in 2010 and help their party win back a majority in the U.S. House. They cite how the new map added Democratic-friendly territory to Johnson's district, which now covers a much bigger section of central Illinois to the Missouri line.
In November, Johnson faced David Gill, a Democrat from Bloomington.
A second Republican official said that Johnson has been telling colleagues about his plans for at least two weeks, and that Johnson believed the seat was secure enough to leave to another Republican in November. The official, also speaking anonymously ahead of Johnson's formal announcement, said jockeying among other Republicans for the seat already was intense, with "all kinds of names bandied about."
"I think that there are a lot of people that are interested because we are going to win that seat. I don't know if I would call it jockeying for position, but a lot of good people are interested," said Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.
A replacement candidate would be chosen by county officials from the congressional district, officials said, but Brady said he had asked party lawyers Wednesday to verify the exact process. Habeeb Habeeb, interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party, did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.
Johnson was first elected to Congress in 2000 after serving in the state General Assembly since 1976. Before that he was a member of the Urbana City Council.
Among the positions Johnson has sometimes taken against his party colleagues are his call last year for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last month he endorsed Ron Paul in the presidential race.
Leaving now, Johnson will have never lost an election. He is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate.