WASHINGTON -- In a surprise move that deals a serious blow to Democratic chances of holding the Senate, Montana Sen. Max Baucus said Tuesday that he will not to seek re-election next year.

"I don't want to die here with my boots on. There is life beyond Congress," Baucus, 71, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee and was expected to be a major player in the coming debate over reforming the nation's tax system. A Democratic aide said Baucus' decision could complicate the tax-overhaul effort and that there might be calls for the lame-duck senator to relinquish his chairmanship before his retirement takes effect.

The six-term senator played a major role in shaping President Barack Obama's health care legislation but broke with Obama in the recent gun control fight.

Baucus is the sixth incumbent Democratic senator to announce his retirement ahead of next year's election and the fourth whose retirement puts a seat up for grabs in a Republican or tossup state. The others are Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Tom Harkin of Iowa.

Six other seats currently held by Democrats are also at risk next year -- in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina and Michigan. Democrats currently hold a 55-45 Senate majority.

Montana's former Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer, who had been toying with a long shot 2016 presidential try, is now leaning toward running for Baucus' seat, according to a Democrat familiar with the former governor's thinking.

Baucus, a fifth-generation Montanan, was elected to the Senate in 1978 after two terms in the House. He became the top Democrat on the Finance Committee in early 2001. He has held the position ever since on the panel -- which has jurisdiction over taxes, Medicare, Medicaid, health care and trade -- as chairman when his party held a majority and as senior member of the minority when Republicans were in power.

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