Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) will retire at the end of his term, he announced in a press conference Monday morning.
"I believe it is time for me to begin a new chapter in my life by spending more time with my family and exploring new opportunities here at home in Arkansas," Ross said at a press conference in Little Rock.
"I have received a lot of encouragement to run for Governor of Arkansas when Governor [Mike] Beebe's term ends in 2014. I've always been very upfront and honest in the fact that, as a fifth generation Arkansan, I love our state and would like very much to help lead it at some point in the future," read a statement from Ross. "Whether I run for Governor in 2014 is a decision I have not yet made and won't make until sometime after my term in this Congress ends."
The six-term Democrat was less than enthusiastic about the new congressional district the Democrats who control Arkansas's legislature drew in redistricting this spring. His old district had gone for Sen. John McCainJohn McCainHigh anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support GOP senator: I'd consider Clinton Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ariz.) over President Obama by 58 percent to 39 percent in 2008, and Democrats removed some heavily African-American areas from his new district in order to give next-door freshman Rep. Rick CrawfordRick CrawfordWhy a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform Convention calendar: Parties and events Southern lawmakers fight to keep USDA catfish inspections MORE (R-Ark.) a tougher reelection, making it more Republican-leaning.
Ross is the fourth Blue Dog Democrat to announce his retirement in recent months. Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) decided against a bid for reelection earlier this year, Rep. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel MORE (D-Ind.) is running for the Senate and former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) resigned earlier this year to take over a foreign policy think tank.
The Blue Dog Coalition numbered 54 members before last election and had become an influential swing bloc of votes. It is now down to 25 members including Donnelly, Boren and Ross, although the group may bounce back in a better year for Democrats, and some conservative Democrats including former Blue Dog Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickSheldon Adelson gives .2M to super PAC supporting McCain Dems seek cash to expand Senate map Democrats on the Senate: We got this MORE (D-Ariz.) plan to run for Congress next year.
Republicans promised to contest the race. "After years of listening to Mike Ross pay lip service to fiscal responsibility, voters will now have the chance to elect a candidate that truly represents their values," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton.
Arkansas has long elected more conservative Democrats at the local level while voting Republican at the national level, but two of its congressional districts flipped to the GOP last year, and former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) lost her reelection bid to now-Sen. John BoozmanJohn BoozmanGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election In denouncing Trump's misogyny, Republicans show their sexism A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel MORE (R-Ark.).
But Democrats are confident they can hold the seat with the right kind of candidate. "A Democrat has represented this district for more than a decade and Congressman Ross won by nearly 18 percent in 2010, one of the toughest election cycles of a generation," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.). "We are confident that a Democratic candidate who reflects the district will win this seat next November."
Democrats are high on a few candidates that could replace Ross, including state Sen. Steve Harrelson, prosecutor Robin Carroll and former state Sen. Steve Faris. Possible Republican candidates include Arkansas Lieutenant Gov. Mark Darr, former U.S. Army Captain Tom CottonTom CottonCotton not ruling out 2020 White House bid GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election GOP chairman demands number of immigrants granted accidental citizenship MORE, and businesswoman and former Republican staffer Beth Anne Rankin, who lost to Ross in 2010.
—This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. to include the NRCC's comment and 12:40 p.m. to include discussion of the Blue Dog Coalition.