When Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., announced on Friday that he will not seek a fifth term, Democrats got exactly what they didn’t need — another open Senate seat to defend in a year in which they’re already juggling a daunting number of targets.

Before Kohl’s announcement, Republicans had little hope of seriously contesting the seat. Now, it will be one of the most hotly contested battles of the 2012 Senate landscape.

“The office doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and there is something to be said for not staying in office too long,” Kohl said on Friday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’ve always believed it’s better to leave a job a little too early than a little too late, and that’s how I feel today.”

Kohl’s decision, coming five years after he won reelection with 67 percent of the vote, is an unmistakable blow to Democrats, not only in Wisconsin but in Washington. With a narrow 53-47 majority in the upper chamber and tasked with defending 23 Democratic-held Senate seats this year, Democrats need all the help they can get to maintain control.

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