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Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl to Retire

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Updated: 1:40 p.m.

Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl (D) announced Friday that he will not seek a fifth term, opening a vulnerable seat that could help Republicans in their pursuit of the majority.

“So even though I continue to love this job, I have decided that the time has come to give someone else the opportunity to serve,” Kohl said at a press conference in Milwaukee, according to a press release. ”Therefore, I am announcing today that I will not seek another term as your Senator.”

Kohl, 76, had loaned his campaign $1 million in the fourth quarter but had been keeping a low profile in the battleground state. News of Kohl's retirement was first reported by the Washington Post.

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who served with Kohl from 1993 through 2010 and could be a candidate to replace him, said, “Senator Kohl has served the state with honor. He will be remembered for his advocacy for our state's dairy farmers, his work on behalf of children and his keen understanding of our state's business community.  I sincerely wish him all the best.

Feingold saw now-Sen. Ron Johnson (R), a wealthy businessman with no political experience, come out of nowhere and pull off a 5-point win in 2010.

So far, the focus in Wisconsin has been squarely on Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the state Legislature, with a movement toward recall elections for state Senators and possibly even Walker. What happens there could also play a big role in what the Senate race looks like a year from now.

While there’s no doubt the move is a blow for Democrats, who already are facing the prospect of defending 23 seats to the GOP’s 10 next year, Democratic strategists insist they’re confident they can win the seat.

“There is no place in the country where Republicans have overplayed their hand like they have in Wisconsin,” one Democratic campaign strategist said. “Over the last three years, Democrats have amassed a 10-point [registration] advantage. Democrats also have a very deep bench in the state.”

As potential candidates, Democrats are floating names such as Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor who ran for governor last year and narrowly lost to Walker. Progressives like seven-term Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who has been a prominent figure in the state’s labor clash and reported $709,000 in her campaign account at the end of March. Sources close to Baldwin say she is likely to run.

Eight-term Rep. Ron Kind is also a Democrat to watch, as is Feingold.

For Republicans, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) is the obvious choice to step forward and run for the open seat, but he just took the gavel of the House Budget Committee, giving him more influence than a freshman Senator. Ryan will make a statement Friday afternoon on the topic.

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