Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska said Saturday that he would not run for his state’s open Senate seat in 2014, taking away what would have been the heavy favorite in the race.

Heineman, a popular Republican, said in a statement that a Senate bid would have been a distraction during his final months in office, according to media reports out of Nebraska.

"We are going to continue to focus on tax relief and tax reform for Nebraska’s middle class families, expanding job opportunities for Nebraskans, and improving Nebraska’s education system by strengthening academic achievement,” said Heineman, who has been governor since 2005 and is ineligible to run for reelection in 2014.

Sen. Mike JohannsMichael (Mike) Owen JohannsMeet the Democratic sleeper candidate gunning for Senate in Nebraska Farmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World MORE (R-Neb.), Heineman’s predecessor as governor, announced earlier this year that he would not seek a second term in the Senate. Speculation quickly centered on Heineman, just as it did when Nebraska had an open Senate seat in 2012.


But the Nebraska governor declined once more, after reportedly talking to former governors about making the switch to the Senate. Former governors who take a seat in the Senate have often expressed frustration at the slower pace of the Senate, and the chamber’s inability to make decisions quickly.

Even with Heineman taking a pass, Republicans are likely to feel confident they’ll be able to keep control of the seat, as they try once more to regain control of the Senate.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThis week: Congress starts lame-duck with leadership fight Senate GOP readies for leadership reshuffle GOP's Fischer wins second term as Nebraska senator MORE, a Republican, easily won Nebraska’s other Senate seat last November, after former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) retired.

Still, Heineman’s decision opens the door for potentially a wide-open battle for the GOP nomination. Rep. Jeff FortenberryJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FortenberryProfessor says GOP lawmaker’s office called him over ‘liking’ vandalized campaign sign In the wake of ISIS: Seeking to restore what is right and good for the Yazidis Fortenberry named chairman of legislative appropriations subcommittee in House MORE (R-Neb.) and Don Stenberg, the state’s treasurer, are among the potential candidates for the seat.