WASHINGTON – Nine-term Democratic congressman Bud Cramer of Alabama said Thursday he will not run for reelection in November.
The surprise announcement leaves little time for campaigning before the state's June 3 party primaries and opens up a competitive district that Republicans have long eyed as a potential pickup opportunity.
Cramer, 60, a conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat from Huntsville, said in a statement he believes "this is a good time for me to step aside and transition to new leadership."
"This was a difficult decision, but after 28 years of public service it is time for me to step aside, spend more time with my family and begin another chapter in my life," the statement said.
His office declined to take questions, but his announcement stunned fellow lawmakers in Alabama and Washington.
Rep. Artur Davis, a Birmingham Democrat who heads the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's candidate recruitment efforts, said he spoke with Cramer as recently as Wednesday and had no indication he was considering retiring.
"I learned about it approximately ten minutes ago," Davis said. "I'm disappointed to see it ... he has served the state very well."
"He was a lock to be reelected, so yes we've got some work to do now to find a good candidate, but I assure you that we will find a good candidate," Davis said.
Alabama Democratic Party chairman Joe Turnham called Cramer "a great American and a great public servant" and said the party will work hard to keep the seat in Democratic hands.
"We already anticipate there will be several outstanding Democrats who will want to succeed Congressman Cramer," Turnham said.
He said 85 percent of the elected officials in the 5th District are Democrats, which he said gives the party a strong field of candidates to choose from.
Alabama Republican Party chairman Rep. Mike Hubbard praised Cramer but said the GOP would work hard to elect a Republican to the district, which has been represented by a Democrat for more than 100 years.
"I guarantee you we will have a quality candidate," he said.
Cramer was elected to Congress in 1990 after serving 10 years as Madison County's district attorney. Representing north Alabama's 5th District, he faced difficult election challenges earlier in his career but has more easily fended off challengers in recent years.
He joins a long line of retiring lawmakers and becomes the second Alabama congressman to announce his retirement this year, following Republican Rep. Terry Everett of Rehobeth.