Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton's bid to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor opens up a potentially competitive House contest in 2014.
Cotton, a freshman, is the second Republican since Reconstruction to represent the district, following longtime Democratic Rep. Mike Ross' retirement last cycle. Democrats argue that with a strong candidate, they might have a chance to take back this district, which GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won with 62 percent in 2012.
"Without [President Barack Obama] at the top of the ticket, candidates will be able to talk about local issues, without being hampered by the president's baggage," one Democratic operative said.
CQ Roll Call reported in March that Democratic state Sen. Bruce Maloch would likely be the party's to choice to run in the 4th District. But in a phone interview on Wednesday, Maloch said he has ruled out a bid.
"I considered race, and I had encouragement, but I like where I am in the state Senate," Maloch said.
Democrats have also mentioned state Rep. Jeff Wardlaw as a top candidate.
"I am considering a run but I wouldn’t say that I'm in there yet," Wardlaw told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview on Wednesday. "I need to sit down with my wife and kids and see if it’s something they want to pursue."
Other potential Democratic candidates include Chris Thomason, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope, President Bill Clinton's hometown, and U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge. Democrat Janis Percefull, a college professor, has said she plans to announce a bid as well.
For the Republicans, state House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman announced shortly after the Cotton news broke that he will seek the seat.
Lt. Gov. Mark Darr was also mentioned as a potential candidate. Darr told the local press recently that he would make a decision after Cotton made his plans official.
Local operatives described Westerman and Darr as top-tier candidates. But Republican strategists noted that the GOP primary would likely be crowded.
No matter the candidate, Republicans remain skeptical the district will be competitive.
"Any Democrat that announces for the 4th District, or really any other Congressional seat in this state, are faced with the same problem they are faced with in other red states," said David Ray, communications director for the Republican Party of Arkansas. "They will have to explain to voters why their first vote in Congress will be to hand Nancy Pelosi the speaker’s gavel again."