HELENA, Montana (AP) — Popular former Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Saturday that he will not run for Montana's open U.S. Senate seat in 2014, an announcement that complicates Democratic efforts to retain their majority in next year's elections.

Schweitzer told The Associated Press that he doesn't want to leave Montana and go to Washington, D.C.

He had been considered the Democrats best candidate for holding onto the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus next year. Schweitzer said he felt compelled to consider the race only because many in his party said they needed him to run.

"I love Montana. I want to be here. There are all kinds of people that think I ought to be in the United States Senate," Schweitzer said. "I never wanted to be in the United States Senate. I kicked the tires. I walked to the edge and looked over."

But ultimately, he said, "people need to know I am not running for the United States Senate."

The former governor was recently elected board chairman of Stillwater Mining Co., Montana's largest publicly trading company and said he is enjoying his life.

"I have responsibilities here in Montana, my family first. I have taken on a new life at the Stillwater mine. I owe it to the 1,670 people who work at the Stillwater mine that we continue to manage it and make it the best place to work in Montana," Schweitzer said. "This is my home, not Washington, D.C."

Schweitzer said recent criticism over politically active nonprofits connected to him had no bearing on the decision and said such criticism isn't new.

Montana's open Senate seat is one of several being targeted by Republicans who hope to regain Senate control in the 2014 elections. Republicans need to pick up six seats to win back the majority. The Republicans are defending fewer incumbents than Democrats and could benefit from the fact that the party controlling the White House usually loses seats during the midterm election of a second-term president.

Democrats need to defend 21 seats, including seven in largely rural states that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried in 2012. Republicans hope to unseat four key incumbents: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

The 57-year-old Schweitzer left office in January after eight years in office with high approval ratings, but he wasn't able to run for governor again because of term limits. The unconventional governor, who easily won re-election in 2008, always displayed a feel for tapping into Montana's conservative-leaning yet libertarian politics.

Schweitzer said he is enjoying pursuits other than politics, with a new lake house and a small ranch in the mountains.

"I don't want a job where I have to wear a suit, and my dog isn't welcome," he said.

Other Democrats who expressed an interest in running, including State Auditor Monica Lindeen and schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, had been waiting on Schweitzer's decision.

The announcement surprised a Democratic Party that was meeting Saturday in Lewistown for its annual convention, and attention quickly turned to other potential candidates.

Republicans are hopeful that freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Daines will run for the open seat. Some Republicans are also advocating former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, who served from 1993 to 2001 and later chaired the Republican National Committee.

Baucus, 71, announced in April that he was retiring. He was elected to the Senate in 1978 after serving two terms in the House of Representatives.