Former Democratic Rep. Mike Ross might be moving closer toward jumping into the Arkansas governor's race. A spokesperson for Southwest Power Pool confirmed Tuesday that Ross had resigned from his job with the organization to pursue an opportunity in public service.
Ross' departure was originally reported by Talk Business. Southwest Power Pool spokesperson Tom Kleckner said Ross will no longer be with the group as of Wednesday. He joined the company as its senior vice president for government affairs and public relations in January. "Mike Ross has resigned as of tomorrow to pursue another opportunity in public service. We wish him well in his new endeavor," the company said in a statement.
Many Democrats have speculated that Ross might reconsider his decision not to run after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel withdrew from the race in late January because of fallout from an extramarital affair. Ross confirmed the rumors at a fundraiser for Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor on March 16. "Dustin McDaniel getting out of the race has left a huge void which clearly none of the other candidates are filling or I wouldn't be getting all these calls from every corner of the state," Ross told the AP. "I'm humbled by that and I feel a sense of duty and responsibility to the people of this state to at least reconsider my decision and I'm doing that."
Ross' entrance into the race would all but guarantee a contentious primary fight. Former Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter announced his campaign the day McDaniel dropped out, but he is unpopular with the state's Democratic establishment. Halter's campaign has tried to build momentum, rolling out numerous endorsements from union groups, an aggressive social media campaign and a policy proposal that would give free tuition to students who graduate high school with at least a 2.5 grade point average and attend an in-state college.
Ross has been criticized by more progressive Democrats as being too conservative, but the state has taken a rightward shift in recent years. Ross built a name for himself as a conservative Democrat during his time in Congress, helping lead the Blue Dog Coalition and eventually voting against the health care law. President Obama received just 37 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 2012.
State Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter also has expressed interest in joining the race for the Democratic nomination. He is independently wealthy and could reportedly self-finance to some extent. He said last month that he hadn't made a decision yet, but had been "traveling around the state" and listening to ideas.
Safe Foods CEO Curtis Coleman has filed to run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, while former Rep. Asa Hutchinson has indicated that he plans to run.