South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson announces retirement

Rachel Rose Hartman

South Dakota Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of his term in 2014 as expected, opening up a prime pickup opportunity for Republicans in the politically red state.

Johnson, speaking at a press conference at the University of South Dakota, said he was looking forward to serving the remaining two years of his term and thanked his supporters.

Johnson was first elected to the Senate in 1996 after five terms in the House. He was largely absent for much of 2007 following bleeding in the brain due to a cerebral arteriovenous malformation of blood vessels. He returned to Congress after undergoing surgery, then physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Asked if his health was a factor in his decision, Johnson replied, "I feel great. But I must be honest." Johnson said his speech is not "what it used to be," and that he believed it was time to exit.

Johnson said he and his wife, Barbara, will "spend more time with our six grandkids and in the state we love."

The Democratic Senatorial Congressional Committee Tuesday praised Johnson's timing.

"I appreciate that Senator Johnson has made this decision so early in the cycle, giving Democrats the opportunity to build a winning ticket next year. The DSCC will devote all of the resources necessary to win this seat next year, and I am confident that we can elect a new Democratic senator to continue Senator Johnson’s tradition of service to South Dakotans," Michael Bennet, chair of the committee, said in a statement.