Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns is a rare breed: an elected senator who’s voluntarily leaving after one term or less in a position of political strength and without seeking some other political office.
Johanns, who announced his retirement Feb. 18, is a popular former governor who was easily elected to the Senate in 2008 and would have breezed to re-election next year in one of the nation’s most Republican states. At 62, Johanns is at about the midpoint of senatorial ages, more than a generation younger than 89-year-old Frank Lautenberg, who’s also retiring at the end of 2014.
The list of elected senators in the past two decades who exited political life after serving one term or less isn’t very long.
It includes Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, who didn’t seek re-election in 2012 — not a surprise for a man who never set out to be a legislative careerist.
Florida Republican Mel Martinez resigned fewer than five years into his term to join the private sector in 2009. That set in motion a series of events that would lead to Republican Marco Rubio succeeding him.
Zell Miller, the party-bucking Georgia Democrat, didn’t run for a full term in 2004, when he spoke at the Republican National Convention and endorsed George W. Bush. Colorado Republican Hank Brown didn’t run for a second term in 1996.
Some one-term-and-out senators left at a time of political vulnerability. Mark Dayton, a Minnesota Democrat who didn’t seek a second term in 2006, acknowledged in his retirement announcement that he wouldn’t be the best Democratic candidate. (He’s now Minnesota’s governor). Ethics troubles forced New Jersey Democrat Bob Torricelli out of a 2002 re-election campaign.
Illinois Republican Peter Fitzgerald retired after one term at age 44 in 2004, when he would have been an underdog to an up-and-coming Democrat named Barack Obama.
Obama left the Senate in 2008 after less than a full term, though he had the most compelling reason for doing so: He had won the presidency.