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Georgia's Miller won't seek re-election

GOP has made gains in state

 Sen. Zell Miller, right, is pictured during a ceremony in Georgia in September.
Sen. Zell Miller, right, is pictured during a ceremony in Georgia in September.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Zell Miller, D-Georgia, announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in 2004, a blow to Democratic efforts to regain control of the Senate.

The former two-term governor -- who was first appointed to the Senate seat in July 2000 after the death of Paul Coverdell -- said he was announcing his decision to allow would-be contenders to prepare for a race.

"I will neither endorse nor campaign for any candidate seeking this seat, but I will resign within days after the November 2004 election so that my successor can begin to serve immediately and gain additional seniority," Miller, 70, said in a statement. He did not give a reason for his decision.

The 2002 elections saw a major swing in Georgia away from the Democratic Party, which had dominated politics since Reconstruction. A Republican governor was elected, and Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss for the state's second Senate seat.

Miller, one of the state's most popular politicians, has proven to be an independent voice in the Senate, sometimes locking horns with the Democratic leadership and often voting with the Bush administration on such issues as tax cuts. He was openly wooed by Republicans to switch to the GOP, but has not done so.

Miller was elected to serve out the remainder of Coverdell's terms in November 2000, collecting 58 percent of the vote in a seven-candidate field.

"I realize some will call me a 'lame duck.' But those who know me know I will be the 'same duck,' continuing to serve no single party but all the people of Georgia," Miller said.

Miller's decision complicates Democratic efforts to win back control of the Senate in 2004. Republicans would have had a tougher time beating an incumbent senator, but the dynamics of any race change dramatically when there is an open seat.

Some names already being bandied about as possible contenders in 2004 include Democrats Cleland and outgoing Gov. Roy Barnes, and GOP strategist Ralph Reed, formerly executive director of the Christian Coalition.

CNN Congressional Correspondent Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.

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