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US Senator Carl Levin, a six-term Democrat and staunch advocate for military personnel and readiness, announced Thursday he will not seek re-election in 2014.
The chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee said he would rather spend his final two years as a lawmaker focusing on key issues like tax reform and campaign finance while unencumbered by "the distraction of campaigning for re-election."
"This decision was extremely difficult because I love representing the people of Michigan in the US Senate and fighting for the things that I believe are important to them," Levin, first elected to the Senate in 1978, said in a statement.
The 78-year-old is the sixth sitting senator -- and the fourth Democrat -- to announce he is not seeking re-election next year, contributing to an experience gap in the chamber and setting up what will likely be another fierce battle for a vacated seat.
Three of the Senate's longest-serving Democrats, Tom Harkin, Jay Rockefeller and Frank Lautenberg, all in their seventies or eighties, have announced they won't be running again. Republicans Saxby Chambliss and Mike Johanns, both in their sixties, have done the same.
Democrats would be slightly favored to retain Levin's seat in Michigan, a state President Barack Obama won twice, although Michigan does have a Republican governor.
There will be 35 Senate seats contested in 2014. Democrats -- who control the chamber now 55-45 -- hold 21 of them, and Republicans hold 14.
Obama hailed Levin as a "true champion" of working Americans and those who serve in uniform.
"No one has worked harder to bring manufacturing jobs back to our shores, close unfair tax loopholes, and ensure that everyone plays by the same set of rules," the president said in a statement.
As the longest-serving Michigander in Senate history, Levin can often be seen shuffling through the Capitol hallways, a stack of folders under his arm, his suit and hair perpetually ruffled.
But the image belies his on-point approach to problem-solving in the Senate, particularly with military funding issues.
As Armed Services chairman since 2007 Levin has earned bipartisan respect for shepherding an annual defense authorization bill through Congress, work he has notably done in recent years with the committee's then-ranking Republican, John McCain.
Levin has been a fierce protector of Michigan jobs, and he fought vigorously to keep the US auto industry, much of it based in the state, in business during the recent financial crisis.
With General Motors and Chrysler facing bankruptcy and possible collapse in 2008, he advocated for billions of dollars in loans that were eventually put forward by the government. The car manufacturers have since rebounded.
Levin said he wanted to focus part of his remaining two Senate years on cracking down on corporate tax avoidance schemes which "add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit (and) add to the tax burden of ordinary Americans."
His older brother Sandy Levin represents Michigan in the US House of Representatives.