Democratic U.S. Rep. Rush Holt announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election in November and will retire from Congress when his term ends next year, meaning New Jersey will have at least three new members of the House come January.
Holt, who represents central New Jersey's 12th District, announced his decision in an email to constituents.
"There is no hidden motive for my decision," he wrote. "As friends who have worked with me know, I have never thought that the primary purpose of my work was re-election and I have never intended to make service in the House my entire career. For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, all of them positive and optimistic, the end of this year seems to me to be the right time to step aside and ask the voters to select the next representative."
His email didn't say what he would do after he leaves the House. His chief of staff said he wouldn't be available for interviews Tuesday.
Holt, 65, holds a doctorate in physics and spent most of his career in academia — including as assistant director of Princeton University's plasma physics laboratory — before he won a House seat in 1998.
He presents himself as a teacher and a scientist first and a politician second, and it's not uncommon in his district to see bumper stickers that say, "My Congressman IS a rocket scientist." When he ran for the U.S. Senate last year, his biggest campaign event was dubbed "Geek Out" and was more scholarly panel than political rally. One of his main claims to fame was beating the IBM computer Watson at "Jeopardy!"
President Barack Obama said in a statement Tuesday that the research physicist had put science — and his constituents — at the forefront during his 15 years in office.
"No one has worked harder to keep America on the cutting edge of innovation than Rush," Obama said. "Time and time again, he has led efforts to fund science education and basic research. His legacy will live on in our labs, our universities, and our classrooms."
But he also comes from a family with a long political history.
Before Holt was born, his father served a term as a senator from West Virginia and his mother served as the West Virginia secretary of state.
In Congress, Holt has been a proud liberal and a longtime critic of domestic spying by government agencies.
"We are devastated that Rush Holt is leaving Congress. Rep. Holt has been an environmentalist and an environmental champion in Congress," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "He has been a hero on so many issues, especially climate change, clean energy, fracking and clean water."
Holt finished third in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, a race that featured four well-known politicians and was won by former Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Holt is the third of New Jersey's 12-member House delegation to announce he's leaving.
Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican in the 3rd District, is not seeking a third term. Rep. Rob Andrews, a Democrat from the 1st District, left Congress this week to take a job at a law firm.
They're among 35 House members not seeking re-election. The tally includes 11 Republicans and nine Democrats who have announced they will retire at the end of their terms, with some expressing frustration with the Washington partisanship and divisions that have made even relatively easy legislation nearly impossible.
The other 15 House members not seeking re-election have set their sights on Senate seats, governorships or lieutenant governor jobs.
Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill.