US Sen. Richard Burr says 2016 will be his last run for elected office

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr won’t run for another term – or for any elected office – after this year’s election, he told North Carolina Republican convention delegates Wednesday.

Burr, the state’s senior Republican senator, is seeking his third term in this year’s election, facing a challenge from former state Rep. Deborah Ross, a Democrat. If he wins in November, he said he’ll serve the six-year term and then retire from politics in 2022.

“It’s real simple: I’m beginning to get old,” Burr, 60, told reporters after the delegation’s breakfast at a suburban Cleveland hotel. “I still look forward to getting back into the private sector before retirement even comes into the picture. I never envisioned retiring out of the Congress.”

Burr said that after serving in Congress since 1995 – he spent 10 years in the U.S. House before running for Senate – it will be time for a new generation of leaders to take over. Asked why he’s announcing his plans in the midst of a heated re-election campaign, Burr cited his wife, Brooke.

“It helps me at home to announce it because I’ve got a bride who’s put up with it for 22 years, and she would like to know that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a train,” he said.

Burr’s comments surprised many Republicans and political observers. “This is really odd to have somebody who is running for re-election announce an intent to retire after they’re hopefully re-elected,” said Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at Catawba College in Salisbury. “The likelihood is this could be used by Deborah Ross as a campaign tool to say ‘give Burr an early retirement.’”

A spokesman for the Ross campaign said Burr likely won’t stay in Washington until 2022. “Since he was first elected to Congress, Sen. Burr has become a millionaire, voted to raise his own pay, and voted against tax cuts for the middle class,” spokesman Cole Leiter said. “He doesn’t need to pledge to retire – voters will do it for him this fall.”

If Burr wins in November, his plan would mean that North Carolina’s 2022 Senate race will be wide open.

“It will be a big loss for North Carolina,” said N.C. Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Michele Nix, who pointed to Burr’s powerful role chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee. “That’s the first time I’ve heard him say something like that.”

Senators praise Trump

Burr’s comments came during a one-day visit to Cleveland in the midst of the Republican National Convention, and some of his fellow Senate Republicans like Sen. John McCain are skipping the event. He said he won’t be staying to attend presidential candidate Donald Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night.

“I believe in coming if for only one reason, and that’s to see the North Carolina delegates,” he said. “I can’t say thank you to people who work day in and day out without doing it in person.”

Burr was joined at the breakfast by fellow U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Both offered their strongest praise so far for Trump and called on Republicans to support their party’s nominee.

“Get 100 percent behind Donald Trump, (Gov.) Pat McCrory and Richard Burr,” Burr told delegates. “I am convinced that this is the most important election in my lifetime.”

Speaking with reporters later, Burr compared his own candidacy to Trump’s campaign. “He’s a very nontraditional candidate, and he’s run a very nontraditional campaign,” Burr said. “Most in Washington would probably say that describes me to a T, and so I can associate with Donald Trump very well.

“He and I both wake up and look at the world differently because of our roots being in business,” said Burr, who once managed sales staff for a wholesale appliance company.

Burr downplayed reports that he’d been considered as a potential running mate for Trump. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Burr “was liked by Trump” as a vice president but would have had to drop out of his Senate race.

“I think that was driven more by a slow news day more so than the interest of the campaign,” Burr said.

Both Burr and Tillis backed Trump shortly after he became the presumptive nominee, but they had stronger praise for the billionaire Wednesday than they’d offered at the state GOP convention in May.

Tillis told delegates Wednesday that this year’s election will have a “generational impact on the Supreme Court” because the next president will make key appointments.

“It’s on us to check any frustration we have with any candidate we have running for office” in the Republican Party, he said. “We have someone who spent their life in politics and someone who has never yet been in politics. I like somebody who’s been successful in business.”

Nix, a Trump delegate, said she’s glad North Carolina’s GOP leaders are unified behind Trump. “I would expect no less,” she said. “They both understand that North Carolina is a battleground state, and I’m very pleased and excited that they’re enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump because that’s what we need in North Carolina.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter