Six-term Georgia Rep. Lynn Westmoreland announced Thursday that he will retire from Congress at the end of this term.
“After a busy fall in Congress, I finally had the opportunity for quiet reflection over the Christmas break. I spent time in prayer and with my family, and with their blessing, have decided I will no longer seek re-election for Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District," the Republican said in a statement.
"I believe it is time to pass the torch to our next conservative voice. Washington, D.C., is a much different environment in 2016 than when I was elected in 2004. I know all too well the challenges the new representative will face, and pledge to offer my support and guidance to the next candidate," Westmoreland continued.
Westmoreland has long been thought to harbor gubernatorial ambitions.
“You never say never, but I think Lynn is looking forward to being a regular citizen, and there was no political calculus as the basis for the timing of this decision to retire,” former Westmoreland chief of staff Chip Lake told Roll Call Thursday.
In the fall of 2015, Westmoreland floated himself as a candidate for speaker . He served as deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee for the 113th Congress.
"Lynn played a pivotal role in helping House Republicans secure our largest majority since 1928," NRCC Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said in a statement Thursday.
First elected in to Congress in 2004, Westmoreland ran unopposed in 2012 and 2014, carrying 100 percent of the vote in his safe Republican district.
Party operatives suggested there would be a crowded primary field to replace Westmoreland and that there is no "heir apparent" who was tipped off to his departure ahead of time. Potential candidates include:
- State Sen. Mike Crane, who was elected in 2011 to represent Coweta and Heard counties.
- Former State Sen. Majority Leader Ronnie Chance, who declined to seek re-election in 2014.
- State Sen. Rick Jeffares, who represents portions of Henry, Newton and Rockdale Counties. GOPAC, which recruits and trains Republicans at the state level to run for higher office, made him an "Emerging Leader" in 2011.
- State Sen. Joshua McKoon of Columbus.
- State Rep. David Knight of Griffin, who represents parts of Spalding, Henry and Lamar counties.
- State Rep. Matt Ramsey of Peachtree City, who worked for former Rep. Mac Collins. Collins preceded Westmoreland in Congress, representing what used to be the 8th Congressional District.
- Retired Aflac General Counsel Joey Loudermilk, who was appointed as a juvenile court judge in the Columbus-based Chattahoochee Judicial Court in 2014. (Loudermilk is not related to Georgia's 11th District Rep. Barry Loudermilk.)
- Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Clark, who lives in Peachtree City.
- Westmoreland Chief of Staff Matt Brass, who commutes between Newnan, Ga., and Washington, DC.
Potential candidates, many of whom will be entering legislative session on Monday, won't have long to make a decision about running. Georgia's filing deadline is March 11 and the primary is May 24, although Georgia Republicans expect the competition may advance to a runoff.
It's common for lawmakers to decide to retire after the holiday recess — Westmoreland is the third member to announce his departure this week. Democrats Steve Israel of New York and Jim McDermott of Washington announced they would retire at the end of the term earlier this week.
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