First-term Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia will retire when his term ends next year.
Webb made the announcement Wednesday in an e-mail, saying, "After much thought and consideration I have decided to return to the private sector, where I have spent most of my professional life."
Webb did not attend the issues retreat with his Senate Democratic colleagues currently taking place in Charlottesville. His spokesman, Will Jenkins, said the senator will have no public events.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Webb, a former Navy secretary, a "true American patriot."
"The Senate as in his other endeavors, Senator Webb's advocacy has been grounded in his deeply held convictions, especially when it comes to ensuring that all hard-working people have the chance to build a better life, keeping America safe and our military strong. He will be missed, and I hope that he continues to be involved in American politics. Our country will be the better for it," Reid said in a written statement.
Webb's decision leaves Democrats with the daunting prospect of finding a viable candidate to run in what will be a very hot senate race in the Old Dominion. On the Republican side, former Virginia Gov. and Sen. George Allen has already announced his intentions to recapture the seat Webb took away from him in 2006 in a razor-thin victory.
"I respect Senator Webb's service to our country and the very personal decision that he and his family have made," said Allen in an e-mail statement. "I did not enter into this race to run against any one person, but to fight for the families of Virginia to improve their opportunities in life."
For Democrats, all eyes are turning to Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine. Though the former Virginia governor recently said even if Webb didn't seek reelection, he would not be interested in the Senate seat, Democratic officials in Washington tell FOX News that that isn't the end of the story and that Kaine could still be a candidate
Some Democrats are also mentioning former Reps. Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye, who lose their seats in the 2010 midterm elections, as possible replacements. Another possibility is Rep. Gerry Connolly who currently represents Virginia's 11th Congressional District and held onto his suburban Washington D.C. seat in a nail-biter last November.
Democrats are quick to point out that the seat is not a foregone conclusion for Republicans, who took back the governor's seat in the 2009 election. Not only did Webb announce very late in the cycle in 2006 that he would run, but Republicans are expected to endure a bruising primary between George Allen, Tea Party favorite Jamie Radtke and still others.
On the other hand, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said it welcomes whoever the Democrats post.
"While there is no doubt Republicans will field a strong leader as our nominee, Democrats will have great difficulty finding an electable candidate for this open seat as Virginians continue to reject their agenda of higher taxes and reckless spending. We can only hope that Democrats succeed in recruiting President Obama's number one cheerleader in Washington - Tim Kaine," reads a statement from NRSC Communications Director Brian Walsh.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also is already attacking their rivals. "As Republicans face a brutal primary between a flawed Washington establishment candidate and a right wing extremist who is raising money at a good clip, Democrats will field a strong candidate," said Patty Murray, Chairman of the DSCC. "Democrats will prevail there just like we did in 2006 and 2008."