Obey Bows Out

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UPDATE: Double posted on Jay, see above.

Powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and 41-year Democratic stalwart Rep. David Obey announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election in November.

Obey says it’s time for him and his constituents to move on. “My district is ready for someone new to make a fresh start,” Obey said at an afternoon press conference. “Frankly, I am bone tired.”

His decision comes in a volatile electoral year. Other powerful chairmen such as John Spratt atop the Budget Committee and Armed Service’s Ike Skelton have found themselves in unusually competitive races. While Obey still enjoys solid approval ratings in Wisconsin’s Democratic leaning seventh district, Republicans say the 71-year-old lawmaker is running from a fight.

“There is no question that David Obey was facing the race of his life,” says NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain. Obey’s likely Republican challenger, District Attorney Sean Duffy, is seen as a strong recruit and has drawn national conservative attention from the likes of Sarah Palin. (To give you some idea of the generational gap, Obey was elected to Congress two years before Duffy was born, and was the ranking Democrat on Appropriations while Duffy was on “The Real World: Boston.”)

But Obey says his retirement is as much about accomplishment as it is fatigue. “I am especially pleased to have had the privilege of presiding over the house when it passed the historic health insurance reform legislation three weeks ago,” Obey noted Wednesday. “I have been waiting for that moment for 41 years and its arrival finally made all the frustrations of public life worth it.”

Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington is next in line to chair the House Appropriations Committee. Obey’s retirement marks the 18th open Democratic seat this cycle, while Republicans have vacated 21 spots.