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Hollings says he'll retire from Senate

South Carolina Democrat has spent 50 years in public life

Sen. Fritz Hollings:
Sen. Fritz Hollings: "I am truly worried about the country's direction."

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) -- Democratic Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina said Monday that he will not seek re-election next year -- a decision that offers Republicans an opportunity to pick up another seat in the South.

Hollings, 81, made the announcement on the campus of the University of South Carolina at the Hollings National Advocacy Center named for him. He had hinted at retirement in recent months.

"I want to confirm what you've all suspected, that I will not be offering for re-election this next year," Hollings said. His term expires in 2005.

Hollings, who has been critical of President Bush's foreign policy and the war in Iraq, called Bush "the weakest president" in the 50 years Hollings has been in public service.

"The poor boy just campaigns all the time," Hollings said. "He pays no attention to what's going on in the Congress.

"I am truly worried about the country's direction," he said.

Hollings, known as Fritz by friends and voters, graduated from the Citadel in Charleston in 1942 and served in the Army during World War II. His political career began after the war, when he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives at age 26.

In 1958, at age 36, Hollings was elected governor. He held that post until 1963.

He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1966, but he has been South Carolina's senior senator only since January, when Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond retired. Hollings made an unsuccessful bid for the 1984 Democratic nomination for president.

"The Senate is losing one of its giants," said Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat.

"Throughout his more than five decades in public life, including 36 years in the U.S. Senate, Fritz Hollings' wisdom, common sense and courageous leadership have steered South Carolina and our nation through some of its most difficult and unyielding challenges," Daschle said.

"Fritz has been a powerful and unerring voice for fiscal sanity, a strong economy and civil rights."

Hollings' retirement would be another blow for Senate Democrats, who are struggling to regain the Senate. Open seats are usually far more competitive than those held by an incumbent.

Already, Democrats are planning to defend an open seat in Georgia and are bracing for the potential retirement of Florida Sen. Bob Graham and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, both of whom are running for president.

Democrats in South Carolina say they hope to recruit Inez Tenenbaum, the state school superintendent, to run for Hollings' seat.

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