MADISON, Wis. - Sen. Herb Kohl's announcement Friday that he won't seek a fifth term put Democrats on the defensive in Wisconsin, a state that swung Republican in 2010 and will be an important part of President Barack Obama's re-election effort.
Kohl's decision came as a surprise to both parties. Just last week, top Democrats in Washington talked about his re-election as if it were a matter of fact. Now, the 76-year-old NBA team owner and department store founder joins four other Democrats and an independent who caucuses with Democrats in retiring. Two Republican senators also won't run again.
Though the number of retirements is not historically high, Kohl's decision not to run in 2012 further complicates the already tricky task Democrats face in their attempt to stay in control of the Senate. Republicans, who already control the House, need just four new seats to swipe the Senate majority away from Democrats.
Incumbents tend to be favored to win re-election in Senate races, so the retirements give the GOP more of an opportunity to pick up seats. Republicans already had signaled they would run vigorous campaigns in these states.
"I've always believed it's better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late. And that's how I feel today," Kohl said during a Friday news conference in Milwaukee.
Kohl, a millionaire and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, never won an election with less than 52 percent of the vote. He founded the Kohl's grocery and department stores that earned him a fortune.