Heineman likely to succeed Johanns

Editor’s note: This post has been updated. 11:50 a.m.

Six years after he succeeded fellow Republican Chuck Hagel in the U.S. Senate, Nebraska???s Mike Johanns announced on Monday that he would not seek a second term in 2014.

In becoming the second Republican senator after Georgia???s Saxby Chambliss to call it quits, Johanns surprised quite a few observers on both sides. The former governor of the Cornhusker State and secretary of agriculture under George W. Bush had been considered a cinch to win a second term. Johanns, interestingly, made his retirement announcement not long after he became one of two Republican senators to say he would vote to confirm Hagel as secretary of defense; the other is Mississippi???s veteran Sen. Thad Cochran, himself considered likely to retire.

Although there had been some questions about his health, the 62-year-old Johanns cited as his primary reason for leaving his distaste with what he considered the increasingly partisan and dysfunctional atmosphere in Congress. Last year, the Nebraskan was part of the ???Gang of Eight,??? a bipartisan group of senators seeking common ground on deficit reduction.

The name most immediately mentioned as a successor, however, was Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, who is termed out of office this year. Having moved up from lieutenant governor to the top job when Johanns quit to join the Cabinet, Heineman is considered as natural a successor to the retiring senator.

But there are other Republicans reportedly considering the race. Reps. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln and Lee Terry of Omaha, both regarded as solid conservatives, would be strong contenders. But both have considerable seniority in a chamber that has a Republican majority. In addition, the two runners-up to Sen. Deb Fischer in the GOP Senate primary last year, former state Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, are also mentioned for a Senate race next year.

Almost everyone is waiting to see what Gov. Heineman will do. There is little worry, however, that Johanns??? seat will remain in Republican hands.