Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiLobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (D-Md.) announced her retirement on Monday, setting off a scramble among Democrats to succeed her in the Senate. 

An emotional Mikulksi, flanked by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) at her press conference in East Baltimore, explained that she had to “face the reality of a clock” ticking on her upcoming reelection bid, and that she determined she wanted to spend the next two years focused on the Democratic legislative agenda rather than a campaign.

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“Now in 2016, my election would be on the horizon,” Mikulksi said at the press conference. “I have thought long and hard about the next two years, and had to ask myself, who am I campaigning for? For me or my constituents?...Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell? Do I focus on my election or the next generation? Do I spend my time promising what I’ll do, or doing it now?”

“So I’m here today announcing that I will not be seeking a sixth term in U.S. Senate,” the 78-year-old Mikulski continued. “I want people to know there’s nothing gloomy about this, no health problems, and I’m not frustrated with the Senate…but I’ve decided best thing to do…is spend my time giving 120 percent of my time focused on my constituents.”

The Democrat's retirement is sure to set off a scramble among many long-time Maryland lawmakers. Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who’s held many leadership positions in the House, weighed a Senate bid in 2006 and could decide to jump into the race. He had nearly $1.7 million in his campaign war chest at the end of 2014.

Other possible candidates include sophomore Democratic Rep. John Delaney, whose significant wealth could help him jump-start a bid, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley, who could choose a Senate run over a long-shot bid for president in 2016. Former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lost a bid for governor last year, could also take a look at the seat. 

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, could possibly use the opening to make a bid for the national stage. She's currently serving in leadership roles in both the Democratic National Committee and the National Conference of Mayors.

Mikulksi on Monday declined to say who she thought might seek to be her replacement, but said she would happily support whatever Democrat ends up running in the general election.

“Maryland has a lot of talent and they’ll be telling you about it within the next 10 minutes,” Mikulksi said. “I’ll leave them to get it out there. Of course we’ll be supporting the Democratic nominee. The primary is April 2016, that’s what I had to face, the reality of a clock.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester (Mont.) praised Mikulski as a "a force of nature on the Senate floor and she will be missed both by her colleagues and her constituents." 

"I am confident that in November 2016 we will elect a new Democratic senator who will fight for Maryland every day and make Barbara Mikulski proud," he continued. 

But national Republicans are already taking a close look at the race, given now-Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) successful bid last year in the blue state.

“After winning the Governor’s race in 2014, there's no question that an open Senate seat in Maryland instantly becomes a top pickup opportunity for Republicans,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement. “While Democrats get ready for a bloody primary, we will have a top recruit waiting for whoever emerges. Mikulski’s retirement creates yet another problem for a party that is over $20 million in debt.” 

Former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) could be a top recruit for the Republicans. He has been exploring a potential outsider bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
 
Ehrlich served one term as governor of Maryland but lost his bid for reelection to O’Malley in 2006. He challenged O’Malley again in 2010 but got crushed by 14 percentage points. 

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, Ehrlich's former lieutenant governor, could also take a look at the seat. He lost a 2006 race to Cardin. 

Mikulski is the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, having been elected to the House in 1976 and moving over to the Senate 10 years later. She served as the first female chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, until Democrats lost the body’s majority after the 2014 elections.

President Obama praised the long-time Senator's work on the Appropriations Committee and for supporting issues including paycheck fairness, women's rights, and education. 

"Senator Mikulski is more than just a legendary senator for the people of Maryland, she’s an institution in the United States Senate. Barbara’s service to the people of Maryland spans decades, but her legacy will span generations," he said.

"Her leadership serves as an inspiration to millions of women and girls across the globe to stand up and lead."

She is the second top female Democrat to announce her retirement next year, following Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). 

In the Republican wave election of 2010, Mikulski crushed her GOP opponent by more than 25 percentage points, and she appeared to be gearing up for reelection in 2016.
 
Mikulski had nearly $1 million in her campaign account at the end of 2014. She sought to rally Maryland Democrats, after the party suffered a devastating loss in the race for the governor’s mansion, and there were reports that she would hire a party “loyalist” to help ease her transition into the 2016 election cycle.

— This post was updated at 12:47 p.m. and corrected at 10:23 a.m. to reflect that Sen. Barbara Boxer is retiring from Congress.