- Associated Press - Monday, July 25, 2011

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Rep. Mike Ross, the only Democrat among Arkansas’ four House members, announced Monday he won’t seek re-election next year.

Mr. Ross, who has expressed interest in running for governor in 2014, said in a statement that he wants to spend time with his family and explore “new opportunities here at home in Arkansas.” He later said opting out of next year’s House run keeps the gubernatorial race an open possibility.

“If I ran for re-election and won, then I think I would have closed that door,” he said during a press conference in Little Rock.

Mr. Ross is in his sixth term representing Arkansas’ sprawling 4th District, which gained some counties from traditionally Republican territory in the northwestern part of the state during this year’s redistricting process. The move wasn’t expected to hurt a Ross re-election bid, but could make the district questionable for Democrats without him.

The congressman said redistricting did not factor into his decision and that he believes the 4th District can remain in Democrats’ hands. He said he could think of 10 or 12 potential candidates, but declined to name any and said he hadn’t spoken with them.

“I never believed that my service in the U.S. Congress should become a permanent career,” Mr. Ross said. “Simply put, it is someone else’s turn to represent our state in the U.S. Congress.”

Mr. Ross said he would serve out the rest of his term and wouldn’t decide until it’s over whether to run for governor. But the race was clearly on his mind.

“I believe it would be impossible to successfully run for governor here at home, while effectively carrying out my congressional duties in Washington,” Mr. Ross said. “That wouldn’t be fair to the people who elected me to Congress and it wouldn’t be fair to my supporters in a race for governor. That certainly factored into my decision not to seek re-election to the U.S. Congress.”

Mr. Ross had the most cash on hand among Arkansas’ four congressmen with $319,172 in the bank, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Mr. Ross was elected in 2000 with help from President Clinton, who campaigned for him and against incumbent Republican Jay Dickey. The district includes Mr. Clinton’s hometown of Hope, and Mr. Dickey engendered the ire of its favorite son when he voted in favor of impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Mr. Dickey tried unsuccessfully to unseat Mr. Ross two years later and no Republican has given Mr. Ross a scare since.

Mr. Ross is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. He’s also known as a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of centrist Democrats with a fiscally conservative message. He opposed President Obama’s health overhaul plan.

Before being elected to Congress, Mr. Ross served in the Arkansas Senate for 10 years, first winning election in 1990 at age 29.

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