His office issued a statement saying he would make a major announcement in early afternoon, but disclosed no details. The Democratic sources spoke on condition of anonymity to speak frankly about Obey's decision before the announcement.The Cook Report lists Obey's seat as likely Democratic. Evidently Obey knows something Charlie Cook doesn't. David Weigel has reason to believe Obey's internal polling was telling him he was in trouble:
Obey, among a handful of veteran House Democrats who had been bracing for competitive races this fall, has routinely won re-election easily despite representing a competitive district. He won in 2008 with 61 percent of the vote. But he has never faced the level of competition as he does this year as voters sour on Washington.
Sean Duffy, 38, a Republican district attorney, is seen as the favored candidate in the GOP primary, and his candidacy has attracted the backing of Republicans in Washington as well as the party's 2008 vice president nominee, Sarah Palin, and tea party activists.
What do we know about the retirement of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.)? Why would one of the most powerful men in Congress, elected in 1969, in a district that went for the Obama-Biden ticket, bail out of reelection? Republicans point to the campaign of Sean Duffy, a telegenic (literally) district attorney who raised a lot of money, built a following among national conservatives and, according to everything I'm hearing, was giving Obey a real battle in his internal polls.That must have been some battle in those internal polls which leads me to wonder how many others in that Likely Democratic category are much more vulnerable than they might seem. Having won his last election by a wide margin in a left-leaning district either Duffy is the wonder candidate or Democrats are in serious trouble. Actually both could be true. Expect the Cook Report to move this race into the toss up category in the near future.
I've talked to Duffy several times and been so impressed -- and so convinced that this was the sort of race that would determine this was a good or a watershed year for Republicans -- that I dubbed him the No. 3 conservative to watch this year.
UPDATE: Ed Morrissey calls this news a stunner:
When committee chairs retire, it usually means they don’t expect to remain committee chairs for very much longer. When an Appropriations Committee chair retires — a position considered one of the pinnacles of Congressional power — then that goes double. Obey had an iron grip on power and wielded it to great effect, except on the issue of Afghanistan. On that issue, Barack Obama circumvented Obey’s power of the purse by allying with Republicans and moderate Democrats for war funding.