JEFFERSON CITY — Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, of Missouri, will not be making a comeback bid in 2012.
Talent said Thursday he has opted against a challenge of Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in favor of his private-sector focus on national security policies and the potential to aid former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney if he runs for president.
The decision by Talent, who lost to McCaskill in 2006, opens Missouri's Senate race to several other Republicans who had been deferring to the ex-senator before announcing their intentions.
So far, former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman is the only declared Republican Senate candidate. But she seems unlikely to avoid a primary. Also considering the race are U.S. Rep. Sam Graves of northwest Missouri, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of southeast Missouri, former Missouri Republican Party Chairwoman Ann Wagner of St. Louis and Ed Martin, a St. Louis attorney and former gubernatorial aide who lost a close race for Congress last year.
Talent, 54, of St. Louis, said he does not plan to endorse anyone in the potential Republican primary.
The former senator said he gave the 2012 race serious consideration and received plenty of encouragement to run.
"It was a hard decision, and it was tempting," Talent said. "But when you actually ask yourself where can you make the most difference, and where is your service most consistent with the interests of your family, it kept adding up in favor of not running and instead working on all of these other issues."
After leaving the Senate, Talent served as co-chairman of a congressionally-established Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which released a report warning about the likelihood of a biological attack by terrorists. Although that commission has expired, Talent said he and the other co-chairman, former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, have set up a nonprofit group to continue the work.
More recently, Talent has spent much of his time at the Heritage Foundation, where he has a fellowship focusing on military readiness. He planned to speak Friday at a Heritage-sponsored retreat at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. Earlier this month, Talent traveled to the Middle East for meetings facilitated by the Heritage Foundation and joined Romney in meetings with leaders in Israel and Jordan.
Talent served as a policy adviser to Romney during his 2008 presidential campaign. He has no official title now but has remained close to Romney.
"We talk periodically about a number of issues," Talent said. "I would expect and hope that if he does run, I would be able to continue to keep helping him."
Talent served in the Missouri House of Representatives from 1985 to 1993 and the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2001. He lost a close election for Missouri governor in 2000. But Talent rebounded to win a special election for the U.S. Senate in 2002. He defeated Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, who had been appointed to the seat won posthumously by her husband, Mel Carnahan, who was killed in an October 2000 plane crash.
After his loss to McCaskill, Talent considered a gubernatorial bid in 2008 and a Senate campaign in 2010 but — like this year — opted against it in both cases.