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Blue Dog Democrat Rep. Heath Shuler retires

Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C.,  a prominent member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition as well as a former Washington Redskins quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist, announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection in 2012.

Shuler, who is currently serving his third term in the House, said that he wanted to spend more time with his family.

"This was not an easy decision. However, I am confident that it is the right decision," Shuler said in a statement. "I have always said family comes first, and I never intended to be a career politician."

In brief comments off the House floor, Shuler added "I'm putting undue stress on my wife. I feel very much at peace."

Shuler decided on Tuesday that he would not run for governor of North Carolina. He denied that his decision was motivated by shaky electoral prospects in November or disagreements with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Tx., the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), said Shuler's retirement was a signal of Democrats sensing weakness ahead of the 2012 elections.

"I wouldn’t want to run with Barack Obama either," Sessions said.

But Sessions noted that Democrats would likely need more moderate members like Shuler in order to retake the House majority.

"They would probably look around at meetings and didn't like seeing him there. And now they'll look around and wish he was there."

Shuler periodically proved to be a thorn in the side of the Democratic leadership. He challenged Pelosi for minority leader in 2011 and lost. In a floor vote for Speaker of the House to start the 112th Congress, 11 Democrats voted in favor of Shuler over Pelosi. However, since Republicans control the House, Speaker John Boehner R-Ohio ultimately prevailed.

In that tally, Shuler voted for himself. Others who voted for Shuler included Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., Dan Boren D-Okla., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Tim Holden D-Pa., Larry Kissell, D-N.C., Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Mike Michaud. D-Maine, (me-SHOW) and Mike Ross, D-Ark. All are moderate or conservative Democrats like Shuler.

Shuler's retirement is a blow for the Blue Dog Coalition. The 2010 midterm elections washed out the ranks of many moderate lawmakers. Shuler joins a host of Blue Dogs to announce that he will not seek another term. That list includes Boren, Ross as well as Rep. Dennis Cardoza D-Calif. Donnelly is running for the Senate.

"The Blue Dog Coalition will continue to follow [Shuler's] example of leadership and work hard to bring both parties together to solve the fiscal challenges that face this nation," said Ross in a statement.

Pelosi made no mention of Shuler's leadership challenge, calling the North Carolina Democrat "a national leader for fiscal responsibility" and "a voice for small business."

Shuler entered Congress with high name recognition in 2007. The Washington Redskins drafted Shuler in the first-round in 1994 as a highly-touted prospect. He ultimately became one of the biggest busts in NFL history.

Shuler's alma mater, the University of Tennessee, briefly courted Shuler to be its athletic director last year. When asked Thursday if he would consider that job, the Congressman replied it's "already filled."