COLUMBUS, Ohio – Republicans scrambled to find a candidate for one of the nation's most competitive congressional districts Thursday as Rep. Deborah Pryce, nearly a casualty of the 2006 Democratic surge, announced that she would not seek a ninth term.
Also announcing that he will not run for re-election in 2008 was Rep. Chip Pickering, a six-term Republican from Mississippi.
Pryce, once the most powerful Republican woman in Congress, beat Mary Jo Kilroy last year by 1,062 votes out of 220,000 cast. Democrats are backing Kilroy, a Franklin County commissioner, in 2008.
Republicans could have trouble finding a top-flight candidate for an open seat in the district. Former Attorney General Jim Petro, now a lawyer in private practice, said Thursday that House GOP leader John Boehner and others had approached him about running for the nomination. He said he would decide whether to get back into politics within two weeks.
"I'm giving those thoughts a lot of consideration now," Petro said.
State Sen. Steve Stivers, another Republican mentioned as a possible replacement for Pryce, said Wednesday he had no interest in the job.
Pryce, 56, said she based her decision on wanting to spend time with her elderly parents and her daughter Mia, who starts kindergarten next week. She noted that another daughter, Caroline, died in 1999 at age 9 from a rare cancer.
"I missed a lot of her growing up," Pryce said of Caroline. "I don't what that to happen again."
She said a tight 2006 re-election victory thickened her skin and did not play a part in her decision to retire. "I think the ugliness of the election might have played a part in it, but not the closeness of it," she said.
Next year's race had already attracted the attention of outside groups, and phone calls targeting Pryce, mainly for her support of President Bush and the Iraq war, hardly took a breather after last November's election.
Bush issued a statement Thursday thanking Pryce for her commitment to reducing taxes and strengthening the country's national defense.
Pickering's seat could be safer for the GOP: No Democrat challenged him in 2006.
"I have a window of opportunity to maximize my time, influence and participation in the lives of my five sons now ages 8 to 17," Pickering said in a statement. "Time is the one element I can never recover or regain. Being a father is one of life's greatest callings."
Pickering, 44, did not say whether he has a new job lined up. He has been widely regarded as a potential candidate for Republican Sen. Thad Cochran's job if he decides to leave it, but Cochran has not announced whether he will seek re-election next year.
Pryce, who last year faced the toughest race of her congressional career, rose to the No. 4 position in the GOP before it lost control in the 2006 election. Her decision means that of the four top House Republicans from that party's last majority, only Roy Blunt of Missouri, the GOP whip, will seek election next year.
Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, stepped down last year, and party officials said former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., planned to announce Friday that he would not seek re-election.
Some Democrats suggest that Hastert's northern Illinois seat is winnable, but the GOP vows it won't easily give up a seat it has held for two decades.
"Any Democrat thinking of getting into this race does so at his or her own peril," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain.
Two Democrats in Hastert's district last year won open seats in the Illinois Senate that had been held by Republicans.
"Times, they have a changed," said state Sen. Michael Noland, one of those Democrats, who now represents the Elgin area west of Chicago.
But farther west, the district is solidly Republican, which will make it tough on any Democratic candidate, said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor. Bush carried the district in 2004 with 55 percent of the vote.
Democrats got some good news about another Illinois district Thursday, when Rep. Luis Gutierrez said he would seek a ninth term.
The Chicago Democrat previously announced he was stepping down but said he changed his mind after receiving an emotional letter from supporters urging him to stay, and because of the unfinished business of immigration reform that has been his cause celebre.
Gutierrez, 53, also said he wants to be in Washington to help elect Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as president because Obama also is committed to comprehensive immigration reform.
"President Barack Obama and I are going to work to get it done. We really feel we have a responsibility to getting this work done," Gutierrez said after announcing his decision to seek re-election at an event held by the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.