ABC News' John Parkinson reports:
Heath Shuler, the North Carolina chairman of the centrist Democrat Blue Dog coalition, announced today he will not seek a fourth term in the House of Representatives this fall.
He's the sixth member of the moderate Blue Dog coalition to retire heading into the 2012 election cycle. Twenty-eight Blue Dogs were defeated in 2010, demonstrating how difficult it can be to stay in office as a moderate in an increasingly partisan Congress.
"Last week I spent a lot of time at home with my family discussing the possibility of running for governor of North Carolina. This time of reflection and prayer gave us the opportunity to talk about the best course of action for us as a family moving forward," Shuler explained in a written statement revealing his decision. "It was during this time that I reached the decision not to seek re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012."
The North Carolina Democrat's retirement does not come as too much of a surprise. His district was torn apart during redistricting this year and he has had his eye on the governor's race in his state, although he ultimately decided against running for that position too.
Shuler, who is just 40 years old, is the twelfth House Democrat to announce his or her retirement this cycle. Seven House Republicans have also decided not to seek reelection.
He said his decision to retire from Congress "is a decision I have weighed heavily over the past few months" but he said he is "ready to refocus my priorities and spend more time at home with my wife Nikol and two young children."
The former NFL quarterback also made headlines when he sought a position as the University of Tennessee's athletic director last year, although Shuler was ultimately passed over for the job. Shuler was the third overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft, selected by the Washington Redskins, where he played three seasons before moving on to the New Orleans Saints for one season.
President Obama's prospects for reelection rest heavily in his ability to hold onto the Tar Heel state's 15 electoral votes, which he won by a narrow margin in 2008 49.7-49.4 over Sen. John McCain.
Shuler said he is proud of the work of the Blue Dog Coalition, which suffered the brunt of the Democrats defeat in the 2010 midterm elections, for putting the country "on a sound fiscal path and promote civility and common-sense solutions amid the divisive, highly-partisan political climate in Washington."
"Though my time in Congress will come to an end after this year, my work to move our state and country forward will not," Shuler promised. "Reducing our $15 trillion national debt and crafting bipartisan solutions to the many problems facing our nation remain my highest priorities. Leaving Congress will give me the opportunity to focus my time and energy on these initiatives without the constant demands of a re-election campaign."
An avowed moderate, Shuler often butted heads with Democratic leaders. He challenged Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for her position as minority leader "to send a message" to the California Democrat following the Democrats' loss in the 2010 midterm elections, when more than 60 House Democrats suffered defeat at the hands of the GOP. Shuler won the support of 43 of his colleagues, but it was not enough to overcome Pelosi's grip on 150 of their Democratic colleagues.
Shuler took office in 2007 as a prized candidate after defeating incumbent Republican Charles Taylor 54-46. Shuler then coasted to reelection the next two cycles, winning with 62 percent of the vote in 2008 and 54 percent in 2010.
The fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition was formed in 1995 with the goal of representing the center of the House of Representatives and appealing to the mainstream values of the American public.
Twenty-eight Blue Dogs were beat in 2010, leaving just 26 currently serving in Congress. Of that group, Shuler is the sixth to announce he won't seek another term. Reps. Dan Boren, Dennis Cardoza, and Mike Ross are also not running again, while Blue Dog Rep. Gabrielle Giffords resigned last week. Rep. Joe Donnelly, a blue dog Democrat from Indiana, is running for the Senate.
Ross, who announced his decision not to run again earlier last year, called Shuler "a powerful and effective moderating voice in a town too often mired in partisan politics."
"We need more commonsense voices in Congress like Heath Shuler who judge policy based on its merits, not on party allegiance," Ross, D-Ark., said in a statement. "The Blue Dog Coalition will continue to follow his example of leadership and work hard to bring both parties together to solve the fiscal challenges that face this nation."