Published January 25, 2010
Democratic Rep. Marion Berry plans to retire at the end of his current term, joining the long list of House Democrats and Republicans who have decided to step aside rather than stand for re-election.
The six-term Arkansas congressman's retirement, though, could prove particularly vexing for Democrats, since it speaks to a potential vulnerability for his party in the South. Just last week, Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., announced his retirement. And Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., is expected to face one of the toughest re-election campaigns for any Senate Democrat in the country.
Berry is set to announce his decision Monday, though he told Fox News in December that he intended to run for a seventh term.
Berry, 67, was first elected to his congressional seat after serving in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to the president for agricultural trade and food assistance.
After his election in 1996, Berry's name often drew snickers in Washington -- since his name is similar to that of Marion Barry, the former mayor and longtime embattled Washington, D.C., city council member best-known for his 1990 arrest on drug charges in a Washington hotel. The arrest was captured on videotape.
Rep. Berry was re-elected in 2008 without opposition. This year, he faced opposition from Republican Rick Crawford, who owns a regional agricultural radio network.
Berry had repeatedly said he had no plans to retire, but he fueled speculation last week when he told a radio interviewer asking about his re-election plans that "nothing is certain in this world but death."
"There has not been this much turmoil in Arkansas politics in a long time," Berry told Little Rock radio station KUAR. "I would be afraid to predict anything. I think in the next couple months you could see all kinds of stuff coming down the pike."
Rep. John Boozman, a Republican representing northwest Arkansas, has said he's thinking about running for the GOP nomination to challenge Lincoln.
Republicans welcomed the news of Berry's retirement, blaming his exit on public backlash to his support of Democratic-led efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system.
"He now realizes that the people of Arkansas were very opposed to it," said state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb. "Now, they will be looking for a conservative to replace him."
Crawford praised Berry's years of service.
"I respect Congressman Berry's decision to retire and applaud his many years of public service," Crawford said. "I will continue to run a strong campaign based on creating jobs, reducing the deficit and representing Arkansas values."
Earlier this month, Berry had criticized the Obama administration for its approach on issues such as the proposed health care overhaul and climate-change legislation.
Berry's retirement comes as Republicans have targeted Lincoln, who has seen her approval numbers slip. Like Berry, Lincoln has faced criticism from Republicans over her support of health care legislation.
Nine Republicans have announced they're seeking the party's nomination to challenge Lincoln this fall.
Berry's district has voted reliably Democratic in congressional races, but Republican John McCain won the district in the 2008 presidential election
Democrats occupy three of the four U.S. House seats in Arkansas, both of the Senate seats and all statewide offices, but the state has seen its vote move increasingly Republican in presidential elections. McCain won the state's six electoral votes with a 20-point lead over Obama in the 2008 election.
Webb said he didn't know if more Republicans would join the race for Berry's seat after word of the congressman's retirement.
Democrats from the district who could be potential candidates for Berry's seat include Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jason Willett and state Rep. Keith Ingram.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.