U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election to Congress, giving Democrats a strong opportunity to pick up a congressional seat in November.
Davis, a moderate Republican who has represented the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington since 1995, said in a statement that "the time is right to take a sabbatical from public life."
"I have not yet decided what opportunities to pursue when I depart Congress. But it's clear to me that returning to the private sector and reacquainting myself with that view of the world is the best move for me and my family," said Davis, 59. "I am confident we will keep this seat in Republican hands."
Before Democrats took control of the House in 2007, Davis was chairman of the House Government Reform Committee and presided over the hearings examining baseball's steroid problems. The hearings helped lead Major League Baseball to enact tougher policies to combat steroid use.
Last year, Davis opted against seeking the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Sen. John Warner, R-Va. At the time he criticized his party for its decision to choose its nominee by convention rather than primary - a move that favored more conservative elements of the GOP, who were lining up behind former Gov. Jim Gilmore.
Many people speculated that Davis would be vulnerable in a district that has increasingly voted Democratic in the past eight years. Two high-profile Democrats, former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly, had already taken steps to run for the seat.
On the Republican side, no clear heir apparent exists for Davis' seat. Corey Stewart, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors chairman who won re-election last year after taking an aggressive stance against illegal immigration, is considered a possible contender. His predecessor in that post - U.S. Maritime Administrator Sean Connaughton, a Davis ally - has also said he might consider a run.
"It's a deep bench," said Josh Noland, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia.
Davis said in his statement that he is not ruling out future runs for public office. He plans to serve the remainder of his term.
His decision brings to 24 the number of Republican House members not seeking re-election; five Democrats have opted not to. Five Senate Republicans up for re-election this year also are giving up their seats, but all 12 Senate Democrats whose terms expire next January are seeking re-election.
Davis was elected in the GOP tidal wave of 1994 but carved out a different path from some of the more conservative members of that class. He focused on issues involving the District of Columbia and federal workers and was generally regarded as a moderate.
He also has a reputation as one of his party's top political strategists and served as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee from 1998 to 2002.