More Bad News for House, Senate Democrats

Hits keep coming from Arkansas, Delaware

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It's proving to be another tough day for congressional Democrats, with three more drips into a growing pool of bad political news for the party. Today brought two more announcements of Dems opting to not run this year; and a well-known political tip-sheet sees more signs of a playing field that is increasingly tipping in favor of the Republican Party.

First there's word that Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry, a Democrat, is going to retire. As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports, GOP presidential nominee John McCain carried Berry's district two years ago with 59 percent of the vote. Indeed, Berry is one of six retiring Democrats who either won in 2008 with McCain carrying their district or Obama only winning it narrowly. The Cook Political Report immediately moved Berry's seat from the "Likely Democratic" column to the "Lean Republican" column. Berry is the second Arkansas Democrat to retire in recent weeks and (the other is Rep. Vic Snyder, whose seat McCain carried by 10 points), as Cillizza notes, the state that once gave us Bill Clinton is quickly becoming a "major problem" for Democrats.

More broadly, Berry is the 10th Democrat retiring from a competitive House district. As I noted a few weeks back, Charlie Cook has argued that the tipping point number is 15--if more than 15 Democrats retire there's a serious possibility of Democrats losing the House. We're not there yet, but we'll see over the next few weeks how many wavering Dems, spooked by Martha Coakley's senate loss, will jump ship.

Then there's the news that Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, the vice president's son, has decided not to seek his father's old seat this fall. Republicans are running popular moderate Mike Castle for the seat, and Biden seemed the Democrats' best shot at keeping the seat in their column. Castle remains a prohibitive favorite to pick up the seat.

Finally, underscoring the ugly trends for Democrats, consider this news from the Rothenberg Report:

We are adding a dozen new seats to our list of districts “in play” – all of them currently held by Democrats. In addition, we have moved 16 districts within our list – two held by the GOP and the rest currently represented by a Democrat. All of the moves benefit the GOP, either because Republican districts now look safer or Democratic districts appear more vulnerable.

There's still a lot of time between now and November, and trends can change. But to start the year anyway, Democrats are in bad shape.

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