And, with that, Congress loses its only nuclear physicist, putting it in very bad shape indeed should a Bond-movie-style calamity arise in the capital.

Ehlers will hold a news conference in Grand Rapids, Mich. this afternoon:

"I don't want to stay in office so long that people will say you should have left five years ago," Ehlers said.

Extenuating circumstances likely played a role in Ehlers' decision. His wife, Johanna, suffered a heart attack last week and, on Tuesday, conservative state Rep. Justin Amash announced plans to primary the 76-year-old Ehlers.

Ehlers' retirement will allow liberal blogs to crow about how Republican retirements actually outnumber Democrat retirements (17-11), and that the right-wing media is just making up the storyline about Dems deserting their seats in fear before the 2010 elections. But as the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza notes, not all retirements and open seats are created equal. Democrat retirements are coming in much more problematic districts for them than Republican retirements.

Ehlers' 3rd district, which is centered in Grand Rapids, was extremely competitive in 2008 as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won it by just over 2,000 votes. The seat went strongly for George W. Bush in 2004 (59 percent) and 2000 (60 percent), however.

"Voters in the Grand Rapids area have long supported Republican candidates who stand for limited government and pro-growth economic policies, and we are confident that they will continue to do so in November," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).

The Detroit Free Press has the run-down on possible candidates to replace Ehlers:

One – state Rep. Justin Amash, a Grand Rapids Republican, has already declared he plans to run for the seat while others mentioned as possible contenders include Republicans: Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and state Sens. Mark Jansen and Bill Hardiman.

It's not yet clear if Democrats will contest the seat.

Next Page