For Republicans, two more pieces of the Big Win scenario for November have fallen into place. Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general of Delaware and son of the vice president, announced Monday he’s not running for the Senate. And seven-term Rep. Marion Berry of Arkansas, a conservative Democrat in a red state, announced he is retiring.
Both decisions are a big blow to the Democrats. In Delaware, Mr. Biden was seen as the only Democrat with a shot at holding onto the seat held by his father until last January. In Arkansas, Congressman Berry’s retirement – the 12th by a House Democrat so far this cycle – makes that seat ripe for Republican takeover.
Every departure of a strong Democrat from the race this fall takes the Republicans one step closer to big gains in November. If the Obama White House keeps struggling – and unemployment remains high – there’s an outside shot that the Republicans could take over the House, political analysts say. The Senate is an even bigger throw, with the Democrats enjoying a 59-41 majority, but the Republican victory in Massachusetts last week is encouraging other Republicans to consider running against presumably safe Democrats.
As the number of competitive races grows, the Democrats’ sure-thing majority looks slightly less sure.
“The Republicans unquestionably have momentum as 2010 begins,” writes nonpartisan handicapper Stuart Rothenberg, who now projects a 24- to 28-seat GOP gain in the House (still short of the 40-seat gain needed for a takeover).
“Of course, changes in the national mood between now and November could also benefit Democrats,” Mr. Rothenberg adds.
The only good news for Democrats in Delaware is that they have an excellent shot at taking the House seat being vacated by Rep. Michael Castle (R), who is running for the Senate. Congressman Castle, a popular moderate who has also served as governor, will be a formidable opponent for any Democrat. But even Beau Biden would have had a hard time winning. He had the name recognition and fundraising ability to make it a horse race, but he’s young and still relatively inexperienced. And given the political climate, running as a presumed “heir apparent” might have backfired.
In Arkansas, Berry cited health reasons for his decision to retire. “As a lifelong farmer, time has taken its toll on my health and I am no longer able to serve the district with the vitality I once possessed,” he said in a statement.
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