Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) announced Tuesday he will retire from Congress after 17 terms, opening up a competitive House seat in Northern Virginia.
Wolf, 74, has represented Virginia's 10th District since 1981 and is the longest-serving member from the state.
“As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Wolf said in a statement.
Wolf's retirement gives House Democrats an opportunity in a district where President Obama won 49 percent of the vote in 2012. Wolf has consistently outperformed other Republicans in his district, most recently winning reelection by 19 percentage points even as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the district by 1 point.
There has been speculation for months that Wolf might retire, given his age and weak fundraising efforts, but his office had insisted that he planned to run again.
Potential Republican candidates include former Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who has moved from Alabama to Northern Virginia and switched his party affiliation to the GOP. Virginia Delegate Barbara Comstock (R), Virginia Delegate Tim Hugo (R), and Virginia state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) may also be interested in running for the seat.
Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D) has already announced a bid for the seat, though it's possible others will jump in as well.
Georgetown University professor Judith Feder, who ran against Wolf in 2006 and 2008, said that while she obviously disagreed with him on many issues, he clearly has given long and valued service to the community."
She said he could be a tough campaigner as well.
"When challenged, he was challenging right back," Feder told The Hill. Feder herself cannot run for the seat again, as redistricting has left her outside its boundaries, but she said Foust would make for a "wonderful representative."
Wolf was the first member of Congress to visit the Darfur region of Sudan and repeatedly called for efforts to halt the conflict there.
He has also advocated on behalf of Tibetans, Chinese political dissidents, Kurds, and other groups around the world. In 2005 House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) referred to Wolf as “an unmatched leader in his commitment to human rights.”
Here's Wolf's full statement announcing his retirement:
“I have decided not to seek re-election to the U.S. Congress in 2014. It has been an honor to serve the people of northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. I thank my constituents for giving me the privilege of representing them in Congress for 34 years.
“As a follower of Jesus, I am called to work for justice and reconciliation, and to be an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. I plan to focus my future work on human rights and religious freedom – both domestic and international – as well as matters of the culture and the American family. My passion for these issues has been influenced by the examples of President Ronald Reagan, former Congressmen Jack Kemp and Tony Hall, Chuck Colson, and the life of 18th century Member of Parliament William Wilberforce.
“I want to thank the many excellent former and current members of my staff who have helped me serve the people of the 10th District. I am also grateful to my wife, Carolyn, and my family, who have faithfully stood by me all these many years.”
— Updated at 4:15 p.m.