Marion Berry (D-AR) set to announce retirement

The Fix reports on the latest Democrat likely to announce they are exiting stage left before this fall’s elections:

Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry is expected to announce his retirement tomorrow morning [today], according to three sources briefed on the decision.

Berry will become the sixth Democrat in a competitive seat to leave in the last two months but the first to announce his retirement since the party’s special election loss in Massachusetts last Tuesday.

“The message coming out of the Massachusetts special election is clear: No Democrat is safe,” said National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Ken Spain.

Berry, first elected in 1996, had been noncommittal about his re-election bid for months although, privately, his allies insisted he was planning to run for re-election.

While Berry had rarely been challenged in the 1st district over the past decade or so, the seat has a clear Republican tilt as Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) won it with 59 percent in 2008.

Arkansas will be a huge focus of Republican efforts in the fall with Berry and Rep. Vic Snyder (D) retiring and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in deep trouble as she seek re-election.

The field to replace Berry isn’t yet set although Democrats mentioned include state Rep. Keith Ingram, Berry chief of staff Chad Causey and Jason Willett, a former state party chair. State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) is regarded as a rising star in the state and would be a favorite if he ran. On the Republican side, broadcaster Rick Crawford is in the race although the field is likely to expand with the Berry announcement.

Berry joins Snyder as well as Reps. Dennis Moore (Kans.), John Tanner (Tenn.), Brian Baird (Wash.) and Bart Gordon (Tenn.) as Members sitting in districts either won by McCain or carried narrowly by President Obama to step aside between the end of November and today.

Berry himself indicated a nervousness last week for Democrats who were up for re-election after Scott Brown’s win in MA:

“I think it (Brown’s win) is shocking to say the least,” said Berry. “I think it’s a wake up call. I think it has an awful lot to do with health care and the discussion we have had over the last year about health care…It was definitely a political tidal wave and that has been verified. It is no long polling information and speculation. That’s just the reality and I think it will definitely change the health care legislation whether it moves forward or not.”

How is this particular race setting up in terms of who the candidates will be? Hotline On Call has the list of possibilities:

Berry’s only GOP challenger this year is Rick Crawford (R), a reporter covering agriculture issues at KAIT-TV and KFIN-FM, both based in Jonesboro. Crawford ended the 3rd quarter with just $38K in the bank, far less than the $590K Berry had on hand at the same point.

GOPers are not set on Crawford as their nominee. One source pointed to State Sen. Johnny Key (R), state Rep. Davy Carter (R), businessman/’84 GOV nominee Woody Freeman (R) and businessman Chris Fowler (R) as possible candidates. Ex-AR Farm Bureau chair Stanely Reed (R) lives in the district, but he abandoned a Senate bid after a single week for medical reasons.

AR AG Dustin McDaniel (D) would be an instant front-runner, if he decides to make the race. A Dem source also names state Sen. Robert Thompson (D), state Rep. Keith Ingram (D) and ex-AR Dem chair/ex-Berry staffer Jason Willett (D) are potential candidates.

Dems aren’t writing off the CD. They say it has Dem underpinnings, and point to the fact that while McCain was racking up his big win in the CD, every statewide Dem took over 60%.

Considering the weak GOP field so far, I would put this Congressional district in the “leans takeover” category for the time being. The tidal wave of opposition to the Democrat agenda is growing everywhere, including Arkansas, and all indications are that if the GOP gets a halfway decent candidate on the ballot who can raise the money necessary to mount a serious challenge in this district, this seat could be another one that falls into their hands come November.

As they say, stay tuned.

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