Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., was first elected to Congress in 2009.
(Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Democratic Rep. Bill Owens of New York said Tuesday he will not seek re-election next year, adding to the number of centrists leaving Congress and opening up a possible pickup for Republicans.
Owens, who represents a swing district in upstate New York, said he wants to focus on job creation and economic development for New Yorkers and spend more time with his family.
"It has truly been a privilege to serve, and I plan on continuing to work for a brighter future for the region," Owens said in a statement. "It is time for me to undertake new endeavors and spend more time with my family."
STORY: House retirements fuel shrinking political center
Owens was the surprise victor of a 2009 special election, winning a seat that had been in Republican hands since the 1870s. He has been a GOP target ever since. President Obama has twice won election in the district and beat Mitt Romney, 52%-46%, in 2012.
The House GOP campaign arm announced its intention to win the seat back from Democrats. Republicans currently have a 233-200 edge over Democrats, with two vacancies in the House.
"If Democrats in swing districts like the 21st District of New York are heading for the hills, the chances of Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House have been downgraded again," said Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee, vowed his party will wage a fight to keep the seat in its hands. In addition to Obama's two victories, Israel also noted Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer easily carried the 21st district in the 2010 elections.
Owens "has set an example by always coming together to solve problems and working together to create jobs," said Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in a statement. "While Republicans are already fighting a bitter and divisive primary, I have no doubt that another commonsense Democrat will fill his shoes in this competitive district."
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