Unable to summon enthusiasm for another six-year term, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia became on Monday the eighth Senate Democrat to decide against seeking re-election in 1996.
"I know in my heart it is time for me to follow a new course," Nunn told supporters and state officials who crowded into the Georgia House chamber for the long-awaited announcement.
Nunn, one of the Senate's most influential and respected voices on defense and foreign policy, said he intended to remain active on issues that dominated his Senate career. But he ruled out lobbying and said he didn't intend to offer his services "to the highest bidder."
As the most prominent of a dwindling breed of conservative Southern Democrats, Nunn's retirement will leave a hole in the Democratic Party.
More than half of the 15 Democrats whose seats are up next year will not run, giving Republicans a good chance to add to their 53-46 majority. One seat is vacant.
But Nunn dismissed suggestions that it will hurt the party's chances of regaining control of the Senate or rebuilding its Southern base.
"Voids don't exist in politics very long," he said. "I expect there will be four or five candidates that will announce before this day is over."
Potential successors, however, delayed announcements so as not to overshadow Nunn.
President Bill Clinton praised Nunn for serving "with tireless devotion and steady leadership," and predicted he would remain a political force.
In Congress, both Democrats and Republicans joined in a chorus of praise for the Georgia lawmaker who was first elected to the Senate in 1973. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said he and Nunn "were able to reach across party lines on many occasions in the interest of a stronger and safer America. …