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BEAUFORT, N.C. (AP) — The mayor of a small North Carolina coastal town is getting into next year’s race for the U.S. Senate, saying the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol motivated him to step up and defend democracy against violent actors.

Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton plans to announce his bid for the Democratic nomination in early April, the Carteret County News-Times reported. Republican Sen. Richard Burr has said he won’t seek reelection in 2022.

Newton, a retired Air Force colonel and current doctoral student at Duke University studying marine science and conservation, would join a growing pool of announced candidates, particularly among Democrats.

“We have such great national challenges that I just can’t sit on the sideline, certainly not when our democracy is under attack,” he told the newspaper in an interview. “I am committed to running for the U.S. Senate in 2022.”

Newton was first elected mayor of Beaufort, 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Raleigh, in 2017. His tenure been marked by the region’s recovery following Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Dorian.

Newton said he hopes he can attract Republicans in a general election “who share my interest in protecting our democracy, protecting our environment and helping those that are stuck in the socioeconomic divide.”

Former state Sen. Erica Smith, current state Sen. Jeff Jackson and virologist Richard Watkins are among those already in the Democratic primary race. Advisers of former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley said this month that she’ll soon enter the race.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker is running for the Republican nomination. Party primaries are scheduled for March 2022.