Rep. Rush Holt to retire

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Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) will retire at the end of his term, opening up a safe seat for Democrats that’s expected to draw a number of candidates in the primary.

Within hours of Holt’s announcement, more than a half dozen Democrats were rumored to be looking at the seat, and at least two publicly announced their interest.

Holt said in an email to supporters that there is “no hidden motive” for his decision to retire; rather, he wants to pursue other projects.

“As friends who have worked with me know, I have never thought that the primary purpose of my work was re-election and I have never intended to make service in the House my entire career,” he said. “For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, all of them positive and optimistic, the end of this year seems to me to be the right time to step aside and ask the voters to select the next representative.”

He didn’t elaborate on what his next steps are, however.

Holt is the 13th Democrat to retire this cycle, and the 24th lawmaker overall. But he told The New York Times, which first reported the news, that his retirement isn’t a result of “a certain level of dysfunction” in Congress — the gridlock and rank partisanship many of his colleagues have cited in their retirements this year.

Holt has represented New Jersey’s 12th district since 1999 and is perhaps best known for beating the computer program Watson on the "Jeopardy!" game show. 

He’s made a name for himself during his time in office pursuing stridently liberal policies, pushing particularly pro-environment policies and efforts to expand funding for science education and research.

Holt launched an unsuccessful bid for Senate last year in the special election to replace former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), losing to then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker in the primary.

Though Democrats are expected to easily keep the seat, which became more favorable to the party through redistricting, Holt was facing one Republican challenger: physician Alieta Eck, who also ran for Senate and lost in the primary.

Democratic state Sen. Linda Greenstein told the Star-Ledger she would pursue the seat.

"I think we need to have a woman in the delegation, and I think with over 20 years in government, I'm eminently qualified for it," she said. 

Her decision opens up a competitive state senate district for Republicans, who narrowly lost their challenge last year.

Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes (D), the son of two-time Gov. Richard J. Hughes, also told Politicker NJ he’s “looking at it very hard,” noting that, since his challenge to GOP Rep. Chris Smith in an adjacent district in 1992, he’s “always had an interest in it.”

Other names mentioned by New Jersey Democrats include state Assemblymen Upendra Chivukula, Daniel Benson and Wayne DeAngelo, as well as Assemblywoman Linda Stender and former Edison Mayor Jun Choi.

— This post was updated at 3:22 p.m.