Arkansas GOP Rep. Tim Griffin surprised Republicans by announcing that he'll retire in 2014 after just two terms in office, giving national Democrats hope that they'll be able to contest a seat in an increasingly Republican state.
Griffin was widely assumed to be seeking reelection, and had raised more than $200,000 in each of the last two fundraising quarters. He passed up a Senate campaign in order to remain on the influential House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year.
Both parties have a deep bench of candidates looking to succeed Griffin. For Republicans, state Sen. David Sanders and French Hill, the founder, chairman and CEO of Delta Trust & Banking Corp., are both considered potential candidates, according to a national GOP operative.
National Democrats had already trained resources into Arkansas, hoping to recruit a credible challenger against Griffin. Party operatives noted that it is the most competitive district in the state, with Mitt Romney winning 55 percent of the vote there. And they thought Griffin's support for the oil industry could become a vulnerability given a major oil spill within the district this year.
Democrats are promoting former North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays, who was scheduled to announce his candidacy for the Second District seat on Tuesday even before Griffin made his plans known, according to a Democratic operative. To wit, his website ( PatrickHenryHays.com), which was active as recently as two weeks ago, now appears to be under construction.
Hays served for six terms as mayor, where he revitalized the small town north of a major Democratic enclave. He retired last year at age 65. Should he jump into the race tomorrow, he'd have a head-start on the rest of the field, still reeling from Griffin's unexpected announcement.
Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter was initially the party favorite for the seat. National and state Democrats pushed Halter early on to drop out of the gubernatorial race -- which he did, in July -- in order to challenge Griffin. But Halter struggled to raise money in the gubernatorial race and has been silent about the House race in recent months, an indication his interests may lie elsewhere. He's also an outspoken progressive, and could have trouble winning over more conservative voters necessary to win a GOP-leaning House district.
Other potential Democratic candidates include Conway Mayor Tab Townsell, former state Rep. Linda Tyler and Little Rock School Board President Dianne Curry, who dropped a bid for lieutenant governor earlier this year and said in July that she had spoken to EMILY's List about running for Griffin's seat.