MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Seven-term Minnesota Republican Congressman John Kline said Thursday he won’t seek re-election next year, setting off a scramble to replace him.

Kline is an influential congressman, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner and a reliable Republican winner in a district that could turn Democratic.

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Kline was elected in 2002 and rose in Republican circles to become the chairman of the powerful House Education Committee.

He told reporters Thursday it’s time to retire.

“Time is moving on,” said Kline, who was first elected in 2002. “I have loved the work. I continue to love the work. There’s always a fight there. But it is time.”

Kline’s departure leaves a political vacuum that Republicans and Democrats are both scrambling to fill.

And the reliably Republican second district could suddenly be a toss-up.

“This is probably going to be a real dogfight,” said Larry Jacobs, a political analyst at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Jacobs points to population shifts in the southern Twin Cities that favor Democrats.

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It’s a district Kline won easily in 2014 — along with GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson.

But Democrats also are winning in the second: President Obama won the district in 2012, and Sen. Al Franken won the district in 2014.

“This is no longer a lock for Republicans,” Jacobs said. “They are going to have to fight. They are going to have a terrific candidate. And they are going to have to have a lot of money. When John Kline was there, it was a rock-and-roll affair for the Republicans.”

Unlike many politicians who leave Washington, Kline says he’s not bitter or discouraged by D.C. dysfunction.

He calls it part of “this magical American experiment in democracy.”

“Some days you are scratching your head or banging your head against the wall, and some days you are jumping up and down,” he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

Because of internal Republican term limits for committee chairmen, Kline must give up his gavel at the end of next year.

He says he will use his final 16 months in office to re-write the No Child Left Behind laws.

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