WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who has been a force for progressivism in the Senate since 1979 and made his mark in recent years as chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee, will not run for re-election next year, likely setting off a political avalanche of interest in the seat.
Levin, 78, a Michigan Democrat, released a statement Thursday afternoon saying he made the decision believing "I can best serve my state and my nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us ... in other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election."
Speculation had been running high that Levin might decide not to run for reelection, but Levin had repeatedly said he hadn't made up his mind. Last month, his office staff knocked down speculation that he might not seek a seventh six-year term in 2014 after filing a small fundraising report for the last quarter of 2012.
Levin told the Detroit Free Press a few weeks ago he would make up his mind soon.
In his statement Thursday, Levin said he wanted to concentrate on passing laws that target offshore tax avoidance schemes, a pursuit of his for years. Second, he said he wanted to ensure that "the manufacturing renaissance that has led to Michigan's economic comeback continues." Third, he said the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations he chairs will look into the failure of the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws that "are supposed to prevent secret contributions to tax exempt organizations for political purposes."
He said he would also continue to fight to ensure military readiness despite the fiscal pressures being felt by the Pentagon.
"These issues will have an enormous impact on the people of Michigan and the nation for years to come and we need to confront them," he wrote. "I can think of no better way to spend the next two years than to devote all of my energy and attention to taking on these challenges."
A lawyer by training and a former Detroit City Council member, Levin is a member of one of Michigan's most prestigious political families. His older brother, Sander, lives in Royal Oak and is ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Carl Levin was elected in 1978 and won after incumbent Sen. Robert Griffin left the race only to try to re-enter later.
Levin's departure could come at a bad time for Democrats as they look for a strong candidate to take on Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, but Michigan has had few Republicans succeed at winning U.S. Senate seats in recent elections -- the most recent being Spencer Abraham in 1994, who served one term before being beaten by the state's junior senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow.
Levin hasn't had a close election in decades and, if he did decide to run in 2014, was expected at this early point to win easily. In 2008, he beat former state House Rep. Jack Hoogendyk by nearly 30 percentage points.
With his rumpled clothes and eyeglasses perched at the end of his nose, Levin has been a staunch defender of Michigan and its signature auto industry and became a respected voice for the state in Washington, helping to deliver funds to needy projects around the state. An incisive questioner, he was considered a liberal force in the Senate but found common ground on many occasions with his Republican counterpart on Armed Services, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
"The retirement of my good friend Carl Levin is a terrible loss to our state," Dingell said in a statement. "Carl is a giant, and he and his service have been of enormous value to the people of Michigan and this nation. I wish this giant a long retirement, full of well-earned joy and contentment with his wonderful wife Barbara and family."
Levin becomes the sixth member of the Senate to announce he would not run for reelection next year, joining Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.