Rep. Griffin to retire, citing young family

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) will retire after two terms in office to spend more time with his family, he tells The Hill. 

The decision opens up a Republican-leaning, competitive district and a coveted spot on the House Ways and Means Committee.

"This is something my wife and I have been talking about for months," Griffin said. "We just couldn't for sure commit to three years at this point given the ages of my kids."

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Griffin was elected to an open seat during the 2010 Republican wave election and easily won reelection last fall. He called serving in Congress "the honor of a lifetime" but says he doesn't want to miss the "formative years" of his two young children.

In an interview interrupted by his children and a barking dog, Griffin says the decision had nothing to do with the recently concluded government shutdown.

"This was something that we started talking about probably eight months ago. The timing of this is not related to the shutdown," he said.

His district is one of the more competitive in Arkansas — President Obama won 43 percent of the vote there in 2012 — and Griffin said he made the decision now in order to give other Republicans ample time to organize a campaign.

Democrats say Griffin's retirement gives them a shot. His is the type of district where Democrats will need to compete to win a House majority in 2014. 

Democrats need to win a net of 17 seats, and many of those will have to be Republican-leaning because of the way congressional maps were drawn after the 2010 census.

"I don't have an opponent, but I think there'll be one soon, and I wanted to make sure my Republican successor is not at a disadvantage because I lingered around until February," Griffin said, referring to the filing deadline for the seat. 

"That's what happened to my [Democratic predecessor]. I got into the race in the fall, and by the time January came around, I'd raised a half-million dollars, and there were five Democrats running, none of whom had money or organization."

Griffin said he didn't discuss his plans to leave office with potential candidates but predicted "several" would run.

Democrats say former North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays (D) is expected to launch a bid for the seat Tuesday. Former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) is also giving a run serious consideration.

Democrats say Hays, a longtime mayor of the district's second-largest city, could be a strong candidate, though his position in favor of more gun control and membership in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group Mayors Against Illegal Guns could hurt his chances. 

Many believe Halter, a favorite of labor following his challenge to former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in a 2010 primary election, would be a more formidable candidate because of his fundraising ability and national profile.

"If Halter decides to run, they may try to clear the field," one top Arkansas Democrat said.

Bud Jackson, a Halter adviser, tells The Hill that "people have been asking Bill to run because they know he'd be the strongest Democrat. Today's decision will likely intensify the encouragement."

The National Republican Congressional Committee promised to defend the seat for the party.

"Tim Griffin has been a superb and dedicated member of Congress who has represented the people of Arkansas with a passion and commitment to improving their lives and making this country stronger," NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement. 

"While we will all miss him tremendously, I wish Tim and his family the very best and look forward to electing a Republican from Arkansas's 2nd District to fill his shoes and carry on his work."

Potential candidates on the Republican side include Arkansas state Sens. David Sanders and Jason Rapert , businessman French Hill and former state Sen. Gilbert Baker.

"I want to make sure a conservative gets elected. I think that it would be shocking to me if we don't hold this seat," Griffin said. "Yeah, we have to have a good candidate, but we will. And Obama is extraordinarily unpopular in this state and this district."

Griffin says he has "no idea" what his next step will be but plans to finish out his term in Congress and stay involved in public service afterward.

"I'm going to stay engaged — I believe in the cause," he promised. "I've been in this a long time. People say they like term limits. Well, this is term limits."

— This post was originally posted at 9:03 a.m. and has been updated.