Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) - Popular New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch announced Thursday he will not seek a historic fifth term in office, putting another state race in play for Republicans in 2012.
Lynch, an immensely well-liked Democrat, has headed the state for eight years and was considered all-but-unbeatable had he chosen to run again. He announced at a press conference Thursday he would not run for a fifth two-year term.
In a letter to his constituents he said he has the "passion and energy to keep doing this work for a long, long time."
"But democracy demands periodic change. To refresh and revive itself, democracy needs new leaders and new ideas," Lynch wrote. "Institutions must be challenged in new ways to stay vibrant and relevant. It is time for the next generation of leadership for New Hampshire."
One likely Republican contender for the seat is Ovide Lamontagne, a tea party favorite who ran a close but ultimately unsuccessful primary campaign against now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2010. Lamontagne is widely expected to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks.
Other potential candidates include tea party darling and head of the conservative think tank Cornerstone Kevin Smith, as well as 2010 gubernatorial candidate John Stephen and Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.
Former state senator and Democrat Maggie Hassan is expected to make a bid to succeed Lynch in office.