Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday he will not run for Senate in 2016, taking himself out of what could be a messy Democratic primary race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

O'Malley, who is considering a run for president in 2016 and has been talking to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, complimented Mikulski's long record of service in a statement Tuesday morning.

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"I am hopeful and confident that very capable public servants with a desire to serve in the Senate will step up as candidates for this important office," the former governor said. "I will not be one of them."

The decision was a surprise for some observers who noted O'Malley faces an uphill challenge making headway against the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. For O'Malley, the Senate seat would likely have been an easier lift.

The former governor is among the first high-profile Democrats to announce his intentions either way. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County is "highly likely" to consider a run, an aide said Monday. And Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and John Delaney of Montgomery County said they are also interested in the seat.

On the Republican side, Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino are among a handful of politicians considering the race.

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