U.S. Rep. John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat and co-founder of the conservative Blue Dog coalition, announced Tuesday he will retire next year after 11 terms in Congress.
Tanner, 65, said in a statement that he and wife Betty Ann had considered his retirement in 2007. He was persuaded to seek one more term because of the chance he could be elected president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly at what he called "this critical moment in the war in Afghanistan."
"We believed we owed it to our country to stay and fulfill this term of office as NATO PA President," he said in a statement. "This mandate expires in November 2010, and therefore, we have made the decision not to seek re-election to Congress."
Tanner, a Union City attorney and former state lawmaker, was first elected to the 8th Congressional District representing rural northwestern Tennessee in 1988.
In 1994, he co-founded the conservative Democrats' Blue Dog coalition _ fiscal hawks who said they were "choked blue" by their party's liberal flank.
The group's name is a play on yellow dog Democrats, a moniker that emerged in the 1920s to describe party loyalists in the South who, it was said, would vote for a yellow dog if it ran on the Democratic ticket.
Tanner has not faced a serious challenge since first being elected in 1988. In 2006 he defeated Republican John Farmer with 73 percent of the vote. He faced no Republican opposition last year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is touting farmer Stephen Fincher candidacy as it targets conservative Democrats in rural districts.
"Rep. Tanner wisely threw in the towel," NRCC spokesman Andy Sere said in a statement, calling him "a longtime incumbent who had gone unchallenged for two decades" who "was terrified of losing next year."
Democratic state Sen. Roy Herron told The Associated Press that he is dropping his gubernatorial bid to instead seek Tanner's seat.
"In the morning, instead of campaigning in 95 counties, I'll be focused on the counties in the 8th Congressional District," Herron said.
In his floor speeches, Tanner frequently criticized tax cuts and soaring budget deficits under former President George W. Bush's administration. However in 2009, he voted for the economic stimulus package, saying he worried that the economy would continue in a deflationary downward spiral without action.
He also voted for the auto bailout.
Still, Tanner and the Blue Dogs have pushed President Barack Obama to carry out his promises for budget reform after the economy recovers.
"Our nation faces many severe and unrelenting problems," Tanner said in the statement. "I will stay active on these matters and continue my efforts with the Blue Dogs and others of good will."
During last year's Democratic presidential primary, Tanner was the only one of Tennessee's five Democratic congressmen to endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Tanner chairs the House Subcommittee on Social Security and also serves on the Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means committees.
Tanner attended University of Tennessee on a basketball scholarship, earning his undergraduate degree in 1966 and his law degree in 1968. He is an avid hunter and gun rights advocate.