Years after most people have retired, 84-year-old Frank Lautenberg — the country's third-oldest senator — announced his intention Monday to seek another six-year term.
The senator was surrounded by partisan pals including Gov. Jon S. Corzine and New Jersey's Democratic congressional delegation as he made the official announcement.
"We need to change course against the failed policies of the Bush administration," Lautenberg said. "That's why New Jersey needs a United States senator who's going to fight every day for the change in direction that we desperately need, and I'm pleased to undertake that task."
The senator's entry into the race had been widely assumed. He has been raising money for at least a year and has assembled a campaign staff.
Lautenberg is already the third-oldest senator on Capitol Hill behind Democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who is 90, and Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska, who is two months older than Lautenberg.
When voters were asked in an independent poll last summer whether Lautenberg was too old to effectively serve another term, more than half said yes. Polls taken since have been lukewarm.
"His age is a factor because voters say it's a factor," said Republican State Committee Chairman Tom Wilson. "It's a six-year term by the end of which he'll be 90, and he may not finish it."
Lautenberg criticized his 1982 Senate opponent, 72-year-old Millicent Fenwick, as too old during that campaign. He now says he was criticizing her age relative to her political experience.
Lautenberg also brushed aside suggestions that it might be time for him to step aside.
"Age is not the factor. The question is effectiveness. Can this guy continue to serve the state of New Jersey as well as he has in the past?" asked Lautenberg, who then answered his own question. "Maybe even better, because there's more experience all the time."
A liberal Democrat, Lautenberg has been in the Senate since 1983 except for a two-year stint.
He faces a primary challenge from Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello, a candidate unknown on the state level. U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey acknowledged Monday that he was thinking of challenging Lautenberg in the primary. Three Republicans have declared their candidacy.