New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg, the oldest member of the US Senate, announced Thursday he will not seek re-election in 2014, leaving the door open for other state political heavyweights.
There had been broad speculation that popular and charismatic Newark Mayor Cory Booker would challenge the 89-year-old Lautenberg for the Democratic Senate nomination if the lawmaker had opted to seek a sixth term.
"While I may not be seeking re-election, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term," Lautenberg said in a statement to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. His staff confirmed the statement.
Lautenberg, a World War II veteran, has been one of the more strident liberal voices in Washington for the past three decades, and he has recently been at the forefront of efforts to renew a ban on assault weapons and to restrict the size of ammunition clips.
"I am not announcing the end of anything," Lautenberg said.
"I am announcing the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey."
Lautenberg is now the fourth senator in as many weeks -- and the third Democrat -- to announce retirement ahead of 2014 elections, with Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Each race is expected to set off a fierce election battle, but Lautenberg's seat could be the most hotly contested.
Among the early frontrunners is Booker, who had been seen as contemplating a run for governor against incumbent Chris Christie, a popular Republican and potential 2016 presidential nominee.