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Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn will retire before his term ends

US Senator Tom Coburn will finish out the current congressional session and then resign from his seat nearly two years before his term is scheduled to end, he said Thursday.

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    Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma (l.) walks with Sen. Richard Burr (R) of North Carolina at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 19.
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US Senator Tom Coburn will finish out the current congressional session and then resign from his seat nearly two years before his term is scheduled to end, he said in a statement released late Thursday.

The 65-year-old Republican said he would give up his seat at the end of the current session in January 2015. His term was scheduled to end in 2016, and Coburn already had vowed not to seek a third.

Coburn, a physician from Muskogee, recently was diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer, but said his decision was not about his health.

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"Carolyn and I have been touched by the encouragement we've received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer," Coburn said, referring to his wife. "But this decision isn't about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires.

"As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong."

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement Thursday describing Coburn as "one of the most intelligent, principled and decent men in modern Senate history."

"When it comes to the transcendent debate over the size and cost of government, Tom Coburn is simply without peer," McConnell, R-Ky., said. "No one has done more to awaken Americans to the threat posed by a government that chronically spends more than it takes in, and no one has worked harder at finding a solution."

Known as a conservative maverick during his three terms in the US House in the 1990s, Coburn continued that role after being elected to the Senate in 2004. He was a fierce critic of what he described as excessive government spending, and was most vocal about opposing the earmarking of special projects.

His resignation is certain to draw the interest of a deep bench of ambitious Republicans in Oklahoma. State law requires the governor to call a special election in the case of a vacancy.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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