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Woolsey Eyes Exit; 2012 Looms

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Rep. Lynn Woolsey is considering retirement, giving several contenders a chance to represent the safe Democratic district in California. Woolsey, who would be 75 by Election Day in 2012, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat last month that she wanted to make it known early so potential successors could begin introducing themselves to the Bay Area district.

Woolsey, who led the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the past several years, will make her decision in June, spokesman Carl Rauscher told Roll Call on Tuesday.

“She really has not made up her mind,” Rauscher said of his boss, who begins a 10th term today.

Early retirement indications help potential candidates get organized, and Woolsey’s looming deadline was set with that in mind.

Woolsey represents heavily Democratic Marin and Sonoma counties, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the  San Francisco district of incoming Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D). Elbowing will begin early with the rare opening of a safe seat.

State Assemblyman Jared Huffman has already made known his plans to run should Woolsey retire and has opened an exploratory committee.

“The feeling here in the North Bay is that this probably is not a drill,” Huffman told Roll Call. “So that’s why I’m not being coy at all. I am opening my committee, I am seeking support and funds, and am off and running.”

Huffman said he’s “sure it will be a crowded field.”

The Press Democrat reported that other potential candidates include state Sen. Noreen Evans, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane and Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt. California voters just approved a measure that would implement an open primary system, allowing the top two finishers from either party to advance to the general election.

With the party now in the minority, Woolsey will be one of many Democrats on retirement watch. A combination of age, re-election vulnerability and lack of desire to serve in the minority again could prompt retirement decisions, while an added and important variable this cycle is redistricting.

Not counting those who sought other offices, about two dozen Republicans did not seek re-election in 2008 after Democrats won the majority in the 2006 midterm elections. In 2008, Democrats went on to increase their majorities in the House and Senate and to win the White House.

Unlike those Republicans in 2008, some Democrats this year could actually see light at the end of the tunnel since the GOP returned to the majority after just four years. With President Barack Obama back on the ticket in 2012, some could hold off on retirement talk for another term to see whether things turn around.

Thomas Mann, a Congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, said the number of Democratic retirements “will depend heavily on prospects for the party regaining control of the House and retaining the Senate.”

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