WASHINGTON – A fifth Republican senator said Monday he is passing up a 2022 re-election bid, complicating GOP efforts to re-claim control of the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who turned 71 in January, made his retirement announcement via video, citing his decades of public service as a factor in his decision.
“After 14 General Election victories – three to county office, seven to the United States House of Representatives, and four statewide elections – I won’t be a candidate for reelection to the United States Senate next year,” Blunt said.
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In declining to run in 2022, Blunt joins retiring Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Richard Burr of North Carolina.
The party is still waiting on decisions by other GOP senators, such as Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Charles Grassley of Iowa.
Blunt and other retiring Republicans avoid a congressional election in which ex-President Donald Trump plans to a major role, forcing GOP candidates to take a stand on his divisive presidency.
Republican strategist Liz Mair said there a “trend” of mainstream conservative Republicans “walking away from an environment in which traditional conservatism has been little rewarded, but jumping on crazy trains has been.”
The result, she said, could be a series of elections “that pit diehard liberals against a nuttier, and often deeply un-conservative and ethically-compromised, breed of Republican.”
In last month’s Senate impeachment trial, Toomey and Burr were among the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump on a charge that he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. They would likely have been targeted by Trump-backed primary opponents had they run.
Blunt, a two-term senator, has been generally been supportive of Trump. He did not give a particular reason for his retirement, beyond his longevity.
Missouri is a largely Republican state, but Democrats are often competitive. Blunt barely won re-election in 2016, holding off Democrat Jason Kander with 49.2% of the vote to 46.4%.
On Twitter, Kander said after Blunt’s announcement that he would not for the Senate next year, but “I’ll campaign for the Dem nominee!”
The U.S. Senate is currently split 50-50 between the Democratic and Republican caucuses. Vice President Kamala Harris, who also serves as president of the Senate, provides the tie-breaking vote that gives Democrats control.
Republicans already faced an uphill battle before the retirements. They have more positions to defend, holding 20 of the 34 Senate seats up for election in 2022.
Sabato’s Cystal Ball, a newsletter produced by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, downgraded the Missouri Senate race from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican,” with the eventual GOP candidate still favored.
“We’ll see if Democrats can get a good recruit here,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of the newsletter.
Coleman said Blunt’s retirement creates the possibility of a “messy” Republican primary, one involving Trump and anti-Trump campaigners, as well as the ex-president himself.
Reed Galen, co-founder of The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump political action committee, said most of the GOP Senate candidates in Missouri “will be begging” for support from Trump and his supporters, such as the state’s other senator, Republican Josh Hawley.
“It will be an ugly, fascistic, Big Lie-filled contest,” Galen said. “The only good news? Even Missourians are likely to understand the insanity and elect a Democrat.”
In his retirement announcement, Blunt said he always tried to do his best: “In almost 12,000 votes in the Congress, I’m sure I wasn’t right every time. But you really make that decision based on the information you have at the time.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Roy Blunt to retire, complicating Republicans’ bid to re-take Senate