UPDATE 1-Washington state Republican Hastings to retire from U.S. Congress

Thu Feb 13, 2014 4:40pm EST

(Adds details about Hastings' district)

WASHINGTON Feb 13 (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Richard "Doc" Hastings, a Republican from Washington state, said on Thursday that he would not run for re-election in November in his largely rural district that has leaned heavily Republican.

Hastings, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1994, said: "Last Friday, I celebrated my 73rd birthday and while I have the ability and seniority to continue serving central Washington, it is time for the voters to choose a new person with new energy to represent them in the people's House."

Hastings, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said a desire to spend more time with his family in Washington was an important factor in his decision.

Voters in the district backed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama in the 2012 race for the White House by a tally of 60 percent to 38 percent. The district, known as the state's Fourth Congressional District, covers a vast extent of central Washington, stretching from the borders of Oregon to Canada.

The district has been drawn by the state's redistricting commission as a safe Republican seat, most recently ahead of the 2012 elections, said Knute Berger, a Seattle-based political analyst and writer. "I haven't seen any numbers that would indicate that is not true presently," he said.

Hastings has won at least 59.9 percent of the vote in each bid for re-election starting in 1998.

Peter May, chair of the University of Washington's political science department, said even with the district's right-of-center makeup, there could be a closely contested race for Hastings' seat if Republicans run a hard-line conservative and Democrats put forward a centrist.

"Things can change dramatically when you move to an open seat," he said.

Hastings served in the Washington state legislature before winning a congressional seat on his second try in 1994, when Republicans gained a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years.

Democrat Jay Inslee, unseated by Hastings in 1994, went on to win election to the House from another Washington state district, and last year he was elected as the state's governor.

"I always appreciated Doc's hard work on behalf of the 4th district," Inslee said in a statement. (Reporting by Bill Trott in Washington and Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Washinton; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Mohammad Zargham)