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Ground Zero For Republican Comeback Is Arkansas

It may surprise people to know that Arkansas has a predominantly Democratic Congressional delegation, but 5 of the 6 seats are currently held by Democrats. Barack Obama did poorly in Arkansas, losing by 20 points, but that couldn’t have affected anyone in the Congressional delegation because not one of them faced a major-party opponent. You could see the creep of conservatism in the state with the passage of a law banning gay adoptions.

However, in the past two weeks, two of the Democrats have decided to retire, signaling a shift that was apparent in the 2008 election. First Vic Snyder called it quits, and Rep. Marion Berry will make it official today.

Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry is expected to announce his retirement tomorrow morning, 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.

In addition to Berry and Snyder, Blanche Lincoln has 9 Republican challengers lined up for the primary, remarkable considering 0 Republican challengers made the effort in 2008 against Sen. Mark Pryor or any of the members of Congress.

It’s possible that Arkansas Democrats will feature some decent replacements here. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel could run in the Berry seat, and Gen. Wesley Clark has been rumored in the seat vacated by Vic Snyder. In addition, Lt. Governor Bill Halter has been thinking about a primary challenge for Lincoln. A new round of Democrats untainted by this Congress’ failures could be what’s needed to blunt the anti-incumbent bias not only prevalent in this state, but nationwide.

However, the 2008 Arkansas electoral map really tells the story here. Only the southeastern border counties with Mississippi and the urban counties around Little Rock and Pine Bluff featured Democratic advantages. The rest of the state was red, and that kind of wave – there are statewide elections in 2010 as well, with all Democratic incumbents – is looking more likely this year.

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David Dayen

David Dayen