Just the numbers of incumbent House members who are leaving their seats next year is enough to dampen the fund-raising appeals of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that suggest that the party’s recapture of the House is within reach.
As of last week, there were 12 Democratic U.S. representatives either retiring or seeking another office, and only six Republicans doing the same. All of the six open Republican seats are in districts considered safe for the GOP, while at least half of the open Democratic seats are politically up for grabs. The list does not include the lone vacant seat in the House, that in Oregon’s 1st District, where a special election will be held in January to replace recently resigned Democratic Rep. David Wu.
One strong case in point of the Republican opportunities to maintain their 63-year high majority in the House is in Arkansas’ 4th District, where Democratic Rep. Mike Ross is retiring. The fact that there is more attention focused on the Republican maneuvering to succeed Ross than in his own party is proof, as one Razorback State wag told HUMAN EVENTS, that “there is one political figure who did the most to make Arkansas Republican, and his name isn’t Mike Huckabee or Karl Rove, but Barack Obama.”
The leading candidate for the GOP nomination in the 4th District is 34-year-old attorney Tom Cotton, a stalwart conservative and decorated (Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Medal) U.S. Army Ranger with stints in Afghanistan and Iraq. With $340,000 in his campaign kitty, Cotton has raised more than twice as much as 2010 nominee (and onetime Miss Arkansas) Beth Rankin and Marcus Richmond, a former Marine who owns a pizza parlor and pet registry.
“And I’m not running against anyone, but running on my own views and experience,” Cotton told HUMAN EVENTS during a trip to Washington last week. In an obvious reference to Rankin, who drew more than 40% of the vote against Ross last year, the former combat veteran and Harvard Law School graduate, said he also felt “not anybody’s entitled to nomination.”
In 2010, Cotton explored running for the Senate seat won by fellow Republican John Boozman and for the 2nd District seat won by another GOPer, Tim Griffin. Redistricting has now placed his Dardanelle home in the 4th District, which redistricting made a district that John McCain won with 59% of the vote last year, to one he would have won with 63%.
Because all state legislators have to run for their seats or give them up in a year following redistricting, there is not a long line of lawmakers willing to risk their seats on a bid for Congress. The only one so far considering the contest is term-out State Sen. Gene Jeffress. A more intriguing Democratic possibility is former lieutenant governor and Clinton administration official Bill Halter, who narrowly lost a primary challenge last year to Sen. Blanche Lincoln. She went on to lose to Boozman. For his insurgent challenge from the left to the more moderate Lincoln, Halter, who lives in North Little Rock, outside the 4th District, is held in “minimum high regard” by many Democrats.
The race for Arkansas’ open 4th District, of course, is not a template of the other 12 Democratic House seats that are open. But there are more like this district than there are “safe” open Democratic seats, and that will make a Democratic effort to recapture the House an uphill climb in 2012.