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Arkansas 1 Race Looks Better for Democrats

Arkansas' filing deadline passed Monday afternoon and while Republicans made a lot of noise about their chances in the 1st district in the days after Rep. Marion Berry (D) announced his retirement, all the sound and fury may have actually signified nothing.

With no big name Republican jumping into the open seat race and a slew of strong Democrats lining up for the chance to replace Berry, CQ Politics is moving the race rating in Arkansas 1st district from Tossup to the less competitive category of Leans Democratic.

When Berry announced his retirement plans in late January, Republicans immediately looked to the few GOP state legislators who hold office in the socially conservative but also historically Democratic district. (A Republican hasn't represented the 1st district since the mid-1870s.)

Early on, state and national Republicans focused on getting state Sen. Davy Carter to run in a district that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won by 21 points in the 2008 presidential election. When he said no, the party looked to state Sen. Johnny Key to join the race. And when Key passed on the contest in mid-February, there didn't appear to be much of a backup plan.

In the end, the only Republican to join the contest after Berry announced his retirement was Princella Smith, a former congressional aide to freshman Louisiana Republican Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao.

Smith will face off against the equally unknown and untested Rick Crawford, an Army veteran, farm broadcaster and businessman who entered the race in May 2009.

Among the six Democrats who have jumped into the open-seat race are state Rep. David Cook, state Sen. Steve Bryles, former state Sen. Tim Wooldridge and Berry's former chief of staff, Chad Causey.

Causey is a Jonesboro native who has worked for Berry for the past decade. His entry into the 1st district contest drew the immediate ire of officials at the National Republican Congressional Committee, who have made it clear they will attempt to paint him as just another Washington insider.

Berry has said he plans to endorse in the primary and it's a good bet that Causey will be the beneficiary of that move.

In late February, Berry said Causey "has been a wonderful counselor to me for nine years and I sure do think a lot about him and I care about him."

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