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Ross Departure Makes Arkansas Seat Tough to Hold

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Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross announced Monday that he won’t run for re-election in 2012. He is weighing a gubernatorial bid in 2014.

One day after Rep. Mike Ross surprised politicos from Little Rock, Ark., to Washington, D.C., by announcing his retirement, the Blue Dog Democrat brushed aside the notion that his move endangers his party’s hold on the seat.

In fact, the Arkansan claimed that stepping down at the end of this term was actually a boon to Democrats.

“If I vacated this seat in 2014, I think it would be very, very difficult for the Democrats to hold,” Ross said in an interview. “The fact that there’s going to be a contested open seat in a presidential election year increases Democratic chances at holding the seat.”

But looking at the demographics of the district and the recent political trends in the state, it’s hard to see how Republicans don’t have a better than even chance of flipping the seat next year.

National Republicans consider the 4th district one of their top five pickup targets this cycle. Not only did President Barack Obama get just 39 percent in the district in 2008, but the area was made more Republican under the new map passed into law earlier this year by the Democratic Legislature and governor.

“It’s one of the few spots in America where Democrats controlled redistricting and made themselves more vulnerable, rather than less,” said a Republican consultant with close knowledge of Arkansas House races.

Ross is widely expected to launch a gubernatorial bid in 2014, but he had been expected to run for one more term in the House before then.

The six-term Blue Dog said he made his decision to retire this cycle after a meeting with Gov. Mike Beebe (D) over the weekend at the governor’s mansion. It was a fitting venue considering he got his start in politics at age 19, driving Bill Clinton around on his 1982 campaign to win back the governorship.

“I went to the governor’s mansion at
8 o’clock Sunday morning and met with the governor,” Ross said. “I was pretty sure going into that meeting what I was going to do. And came out of that meeting convinced that this was the right decision for me.”

Potential candidates in the district seemed to be recovering from Monday’s surprise rather quickly.

“It sort of dropped out of the sky this morning,” state Sen. Gene Jeffress (D) said Monday.

Jeffress said after he has time to get his bearings, he will probably throw his hat in the ring. “I’m pretty sure if things work right, I’m going to do it,” he said.

He’s not alone. A handful of Republicans and Democrats are eyeing the open 4th district seat.

Other potential Democratic candidates include college chancellor Chris Thomason, state Sen. Larry Teague and U.S. attorney Conner Eldridge.

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