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Lieberman Announces He Will Retire in 2012

Joe Lieberman

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 whose hawkish views on the Iraq war angered liberals and nearly cost him his seat in 2006, announced Wednesday that he will not seek a fifth term in 2012.

"I have decided it is time to turn the page to a new chapter," he said at an event in Stamford, Conn."This was not an easy decision for me to make because I have loved serving in the Senate and I feel good about what I have accomplished. But I know it is the right decision and, I must say, I am excited about beginning a new chapter of life with new opportunities."

Lieberman explained his decision by citing a quote from the book of Ecclesiastes: "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven."

"At the end of this term, I will have served 24 years in the U.S. Senate and 40 years in elective office," he said. "So for me, it's time for another season and another purpose under Heaven."

Lieberman will depart with a reputation for straddling the partisan divide in Congress and with at least one legislative trophy after leading the recent Senate fight to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

While Lieberman's support for President Bush's prosecution of the Iraq war outraged many Democrats, his support for gay rights and abortion rights won him the praise of many liberals.

The Republican Jewish Coalition lauded Lieberman's career and his willingness to reach across the political aisle.

"Sen. Lieberman is a true mensch and a great American," RJC Executive Director Matthew Brooks said in a statement. "He showed that it's possible to have a successful political career while doing what you feel is right -- even when what's right is not what's in your political best interest."

Lieberman's announcement came just one day after North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat, announced he would retire. Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana said Tuesday he plans to seek a seventh term next year despite a challenge from Tea Party groups.

Lieberman's seat could pose a pick-up opportunity for Democrats in a state where President Obama has been popular. Democrats hold 51 seats in the Senate and, besides Lieberman, also can normally count on support from the chamber's other independent, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Lieberman, 68, nearly won the vice presidency on the Democratic ticket with running mate Al Gore in 2000 and mounted an unsuccessful presidential bid in 2004.

He was defeated the last time he ran for the Democratic Senate nomination in Connecticut, in 2006, but won a new term running as an independent in a three-way race.

Top Democrats such as Obama and then-Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd who had supported Lieberman in the 2006 primary instead backed Democratic nominee Ned Lamont in the fall general election. Lieberman was disappointed that some old friends weren't loyal to him.

In the years since, he aligned himself with Democrats in the Senate, who permitted him to head a committee in return. Yet in 2008 he supported McCain.

Lieberman's decision to speak at the 2008 GOP presidential nominating convention angered Democrats, and the speech he gave contrasting Obama, then a first-term senator from Illinois, and McCain angered them more.

"In the Senate, during the 3-1/2 years that Sen. Obama has been a member, he has not reached across party lines to ... accomplish anything significant, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done," Lieberman said at the time.

Lieberman's poll ratings in his home state had slipped in recent years, encouraging Democratic challengers and sparking speculation about the senator's retirement. Dodd recently retired from the Senate.

Hours before Lieberman's plans became public, former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz said she would run in 2012 for Lieberman's seat.

Reps. Chris Murphy and Joe Courtney are considering a run. Republican Linda McMahon is also seen as a potential challenger, despite losing her Senate bid last year against Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

"Over the past few months, people from across Connecticut whose advice I respect have encouraged me to consider a Senate run," Courtney said in a statement. "I am seriously considering that challenge."

After the 2008 election and at Obama's urging, Senate Democrats decided not to punish Lieberman for supporting the GOP ticket. They voted to let him keep his post as leader of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Obama was eager to strike a bipartisan tone for his presidency.

Two years ago, some state Democrats wanted to censure Lieberman for his actions. Ultimately, he was sent a stern letter. Since that time, he has had scant interaction with the party.

Five weeks after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Lieberman was one of the first politicians to call for the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and he was a staunch supporter of the military invasion of Iraq.

As chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman led the efforts to create the Department of Homeland Security.

Lieberman gained national attention in 1998 when he gave a politically explosive speech on the Senate floor criticizing President Bill Clinton, his friend of many years and a fellow centrist Democrat, over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.