JEFFERSON CITY — Sen. Kit Bond announced Thursday that he won't seek re-election in 2010, saying he does not "aspire to become Missouri's oldest senator."
Bond, 69, made the announcement Thursday morning at the state Capitol, shortly after Missouri lawmakers convened.
"Public service has been a blessing and a labor of love for me — little in life could be more fulfilling, but I have decided that my Senate career will end after this, my fourth term," he said.
Bond was first elected to the Senate in 1986 — the only Republican to capture a seat previously held by a Democrat that year. Missouri voters have re-elected him three times since. Before joining the Senate, Bond served as Missouri governor and state auditor.
"In 1973, I became Missouri's youngest governor. I do not aspire to become Missouri's oldest senator," Bond said.
As recently as a few months ago, Bond had told crowds that he would be seeking re-election to a fifth Senate term. Also, Bond's chief of staff, Brian Klippenstein, had moved home to Missouri from Washington, a move seen by Republicans and other observers as a strong sign Bond was laying the groundwork for another campaign.
Bond's retirement is the second political jolt to the Missouri Republican Party in as many years.
In January 2008, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt stunned supporters and foes alike by announcing he would not seek a second term. A contentious two-way Republican primary resulted, and Democrat Jay Nixon ultimately won the governorship in the November general election.
Bond, a native of rural Mexico, Mo., has been the most consistent face of the Missouri Republican Party for several decades.
After serving briefly as an assistant attorney general under Republican John Danforth, Bond was elected state auditor in 1970. At age 33, Bond became Missouri's youngest governor when he was sworn into office on Jan. 8, 1973 — exactly 36 years before Thursday's announcement of his political retirement.
Bond lost re-election in 1976 only to rebound and win a rematch against Democratic Gov. Joe Teasdale in 1980.
In the Senate, Bond is known as a workhorse who relished the increasing clout he wielded. He became vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee in late 2006 and later played a key role in bringing both parties together to revise the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a feat he considered one of his greatest accomplishments as a lawmaker.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released a statement praising Bond for his service.
"We have a major thing in common in that we both love the state of Missouri," McCaskill said. "I have immense respect for him. There will be few people who will serve Missouri longer than he has or with such distinction."
Jeff Roe, a longtime Republican political consultant in Kansas City, said Bond's announcement caught everyone off guard.
"It's jarring the political world," Roe said.
Roe predicted there would be a wide-open race among Republicans and Democrats to succeed Bond.
"I think there will be a land rush," Roe said. "Open Senate seats in Missouri don't occur often. I don't think there's anyone in Missouri who's received over 10,000 votes in the last 10 years that's not thinking about running for Senate right now."
Possible GOP candidates to replace Bond include U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, of Springfield, who recently stepped down from his post as House Minority Whip; former state treasurer Sarah Steelman; former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent; former Rep. Kenny Hulshof, of Columbia; Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, of Cape Girardeau; Rep. Sam Graves, of Tarkio; and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan had been considered the strongest Democrat in a race against Bond. Carnahan met with McCaskill in Washington late last year.