Christine Stuart photo

(Updated 7:03 p.m.) “After much soul searching and discussion with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election next year,” Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Monday at an impromptu 5 p.m. press conference in her Capitol office.

Rell fought back tears a couple of times as she recounted her five years as governor and all the people she has met throughout the state.

“At some point you really do know inside that it’s time to get a new chapter in your life,” Rell said.

It was 25 years ago this month that Rell was first elected to office. “Ten years as a state representative, 10 years as lieutenant governor, five years as governor. It’s time,” Rell said.

“I want to thank the people of Connecticut for allowing me the honor of serving as their governor,” Rell said as she choked back tears. “I need their continued support and understanding and their prayers in the next 14 months. I still have a lot of governing to do.”

Rell was quick to dismiss rumors about health issues. “Before you ask my health is fine. My husband’s health is fine,” she said. Rell and her husband Lou are both cancer survivors. She said her decision not to seek re-election wasn’t based on anything one particular thing.

When asked if the lengthy budget battle—the longest in the state’s history—impacted her decision, she said “it really didn’t.”

Christine Stuart photo

She said throughout the summer as the budget battle dragged on she kept putting off making a decision about whether to seek another term. She said it was in the back of her mind, but she knew at some point she would need to make a decision.

“It’s a truly tough decision,” Rell said. Now that her decision has been made she said it doesn’t make the budget cuts she is required to put on the table any easier or any more difficult. “It simply is a job that has to be done and I will do it,” Rell said.

As Rell exited the press conference Monday she entered her chief of staff’s office where she was given a round of applause.

Rell’s decision in September to allow the state budget to go into effect without her signature proved unpopular with the voters. It was the first time Rell’s poll numbers dropped to an all-time low of 59 percent. But even though her approval rating dropped, 57 percent of voters polled said they definitely or probably vote for her in the next election. Now they won’t get a chance.

Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said as recently as last week that he thought Rell was going to seek another term. In a phone interview Monday evening he said its great that she’s got her priorities and what’s important to her straight. He said she deserves to enjoy some free time.

“She certainly doesn’t have anything else to prove,” Healy said.

However, this certainly does change the dynamics of the governor’s race. Not since 1990 when Gov. William O’Neill announced he would not seek another term has the office of governor been wide-open.

“It’s doesn’t change what we need to do as a Republican party,” Healy said.

But Democratic Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said this is good news for her party.

“I feel confident that our bench of candidates for this position will bring to the table the kind of ideas and proposals that Connecticut voters will be able to relate to and have confidence in,” DiNardo said.

There hasn’t been a Democrat in the governor’s office since O’Neill decided not to run for re-election in 1990, at the start of the state’s last recession.

Following Rell’s announcement in her Capitol office Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele met a group of reporters outside in the hallway and said he would seek election to the governor’s office in 2010.

He said he would be making an official announcement soon. In the meantime, he maintained that as long as Rell didn’t run for re-election he would seek the nomination. House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, has filed paperwork to run for statewide office and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, declined an opportunity to run for Congress earlier this year and has been named as someone who may be interested in the governor’s office.

Many of the six Democrats already vying for the governor’s seat were quick to respond to Rell’s announcement Monday. While each praised her for her service, they quickly went on to plug themselves.

Former House Speaker James Amann said he wasn’t surprised by Rell’s announcement Monday because it’s what he had predicted almost 18 months ago. “A moderate Democrat is our best shot of taking back the seat,” Amann said. “People in Connecticut vote for moderates.” Amann has already staked out the middle ground, while others may position themselves further to the left.

“The people of Connecticut are interested in hiring someone whose going to bring jobs, or build jobs, or rebuild the economy,” former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy said on a visit Monday to the Capitol press room.

“We have fewer jobs today than we had in 1990,” Malloy said. “From my travels around the state, it’s clear that people want a leader with a track record of creating jobs, lowering crime, building affordable housing and improving quality of life for Connecticut families.”

Ned Lamont seems to have struck a similar tune.

“Now is the time for a fresh start,” Lamont said in an emailed statement. “Connecticut needs a proactive, hands-on governor who has experience creating good paying jobs, and who knows how our state can be a partner in helping our working families and small businesses make Connecticut the jobs engine we should be.”

Click here to read Rell’s statement as prepared for delivery.