updated 12/18/2003 8:50:06 AM ET 2003-12-18T13:50:06

Rep. David Vitter, a conservative backed by the national Republican Party, announced Wednesday he will seek the Senate seat of retiring Democrat John Breaux.

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Vitter vowed in a statement distributed by the national party that he will be “a strong independent voice” and an “energetic agent for political reform and job creation right here in Louisiana.”

Breaux said Monday that he won’t run for a fourth term next year, ending a 30-year political career and giving Republicans another strong opportunity to pick up a Southern Senate seat in 2004.

Rep. Chris John, from Breaux’s hometown of Crowley, is considered a leading Democrat to replace Breaux but has not formally announced his intentions.

Vitter was elected to a congressional seat from suburban New Orleans in May 1999, replacing Bob Livingston, who had been in line to become House speaker before his resignation. Vitter was re-elected easily in 2000 and 2002.

Vitter has compiled the most conservative voting record in the seven-member Louisiana House delegation, according to the National Journal.

Others prominently mentioned as potential candidates were Bobby Jindal, the Republican loser in this year’s governor’s race; and two Democrats, Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, who has already lost a Senate race, and state Treasurer John Kennedy.

Other Southern Democrats who are departing the Senate are Bob Graham of Florida, John Edwards of North Carolina, Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and Zell Miller of Georgia.

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