LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin said Monday he won't seek a third term representing central Arkansas in Congress next year, a surprise announcement that adds uncertainty to GOP efforts to build on recent gains in the state.
Nearly a week after announcing he had more than half a million dollars in the bank for his re-election bid, Griffin said he'd rather focus on his family and raising his children than another congressional term.
"I think it's important right now to put my family first, and that's critical to me," Griffin, who has a 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, told The Associated Press after announcing his decision.
Griffin, who easily won re-election 2012, didn't have any announced opponents for next year's race. He said he had been weighing the decision over the past eight months. Griffin said he hasn't decided when he'll do when his term ends but wouldn't rule out another run for office in the future.
"I'm not done with politics. I think politics is a worthy enterprise," Griffin said. "I will stay engaged, and I'm very interested in serving in elected office again."
Griffin was named to the House Ways and Means Committee in November, becoming the first Republican from Arkansas to serve on the tax-writing panel. At the time, Griffin said he wouldn't run for Arkansas governor or the U.S. Senate because of the appointment.
Griffin is a former interim U.S. attorney who's also worked in the White House Office of Political Affairs.
The announcement leaves two open seats in the U.S. House next year in Arkansas. The 4th congressional district in south Arkansas is open after Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton entered the race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor. National and state Republicans have named unseating Pryor a top priority next year.
The GOP holds all four of the state's U.S. House seats, both chambers of the state Legislature and one of its two U.S. Senate seats.
Griffin said he announced his retirement now to give potential GOP candidates time to gear up for next year's race. Republicans who said Monday they were considering a run include state Sen. Jason Rapert and Little Rock bank executive French Hill.
"Many conservative Republicans are evaluating their possible candidacy, we are confident that the people of the 2nd District will elect another strong representative to fill the big shoes of Congressman Griffin," state GOP chairman Doyle Webb said in a statement.
Several Democrats had been mentioned as potential challengers to Griffin, including former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays and former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Former state Rep. Linda Tyler of Conway said she was also weighing a bid.
Top Democrats have been encouraging Halter to seek the 2nd congressional district seat after he dropped his bid for governor in July, but a spokesman declined to say whether he was considering it.
"Bill would be the strongest Democrat to run for that seat," Halter spokesman Bud Jackson said.
Griffin's announcement comes less than a week after he voted for legislation to raise the nation's borrowing limit and re-open the federal government after it had been shuttered since Oct. 1. Griffin had previously backed efforts to link spending bills to defunding or scaling back the federal health care law, which led to the standoff over the budget.
Democrats were quick to tie Griffin's exit to the 16-day shutdown.
"It is no surprise that Tim Griffin saw the writing on the wall and figured out that Arkansans were going to hold him accountable for the dysfunction in Washington," state Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said in a statement.
Griffin said his decision had nothing to do with that vote and said he believed he was well poised to win re-election next year.
"I've seen the names of the people who have looked at running for this district on the Democrat side. All of them are lockstep with President Obama, and I don't see how they could win this seat against me or anyone else," Griffin said.
Griffin was elected to the 2nd District in 2010, winning a long-held Democratic seat.
He was named interim U.S. attorney for eastern Arkansas in 2006 after Bud Cummins left the post. Cummins later said he was forced out by the U.S. Department of Justice, and his firing was one of several that prompted a congressional inquiry. Griffin resigned the post after six months.