Marion Berry Retires

Marion-BerryAlas, not Marian Barry, the corrupt DC politician, but Marion Berry, the Arkansas Democrat who holds Blanche Lincoln’s old House seat.

WaPo’s Chris Cilliza, who broke the news, observes Barry is “the sixth Democrat in a competitive seat to leave in the last two months but the first to announce his retirement since the party’s special election loss in Massachusetts last Tuesday.”    Republican bloggers are naturally pleased with the trend and GOP leaders are crowing. National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Ken Spain declared, “The message coming out of the Massachusetts special election is clear: No Democrat is safe.”


But looking at facts in isolation can be misleading.

As Cilliza notes, 14 House Republicans — i.e., two more than the 12 Democrats — have also announced their retirement.

Moreover, as Steven Taylor points out, “The Democrats currently hold a 257-177 advantage in the House of Representatives.” (There’s currently a vacant seat.)

That means the GOP needs to pick up 41 seats to retake the majority they lost in 2006.   The Dems picked up 31 seats that year.  And, during the so-called Republican Revolution of 1994, the party picked up a whopping 54 seats — including that of Speaker Tom Foley.  So, 41 in one election has precedent.

Is a repeat of 1994 possible?  Well, there are parallels.  There are genuine signs that the public is angry at the current state of affairs, which spelled doom for the incumbent majority in 2006 and 1994.  As in those races, there are an unusual number of open seats.   And the party leader — this time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — is once again in real danger of losing his seat, facing low poll numbers and the possibility of a strong challenger.

Then again, there are differences.  In 1994 and 2006, the incumbent  parties were embroiled in nasty scandals.  And, in 1994, the Republicans offered an attractive alternative policy.

So, while winning back the House is theoretically possible, it’s an uphill fight.

An earlier version of this post had Reid as Speaker of the House which, of course, he isn’t.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Andy says:

    Small correction, Reid is not Speaker of the House.

  2. I agree with the overall assessment.

    Correct, however: you mean Senate Majority Leader (as Pelosi’s seat is about as safe as they come). I do think that there is a rather high likelihood that Reid does go on to lose.

  3. steve says:

    Not really a horse race guy, but I would think that Republicans would need to offer ideas and an agenda rather than just remain in oppositional mode. That is when I see some problems as any plan other than tax cuts risks the ire of the Tea Party folks who have been co-opted already by Armey et al.


  4. kth says:

    The Arkansas congressman has the most unfortunate name probably in the history of the House, unless there was ever a candidate named Charlie Starkweather or Richard Speck.

    In 1982, due mainly to the recession, the Republicans lost 27 seats. But they got 16 back in 1984. No one mistook the 1982 gains for a re-realignment. That would have been absurd, as the Dems had been handed a whopping defeat just two years prior.

  5. just me says:

    I think the GOP stands to pick up a lot of seats-for no other reason than the economy sucks, and the democrats haven’t seemed to do much on that front-the hope and change hasn’t come. I have a hard time believing they will retake either house. But then I said repeatedly that I had a hard time believing anyone with an R by their name could win the senate seat in Massachusetts. Politics aren’t always so predictable.

    I think we are hitting a period in politics where the people with the power are the independents, and they have no party loyalty. If they vote you in, and you pussy foot around and fail to do much and things still seem to stink, they aren’t going to feel disloyal if they vote for the other party. They are going to want results not just bragging rights.

    When I grew up the majority of voters picked a party and voted for that party with only a few exceptions for most of their lives. I just don’t see that kind of loyalty anymore outside of a few circles.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    With Beau Biden not running, the gop moves a little closer to winning the senate back. If only Dodd hadn’t run away.

  7. cynic1 says:

    It should be noted that while 14 repubs have retired so far…. all of them are in relatively safe repub districts. In addition 11 of the retiree’s are running for higher gov’s or senate. Of the 12 dems all are in districts than lean repub and were carried by McCain and/or and Bush in the recent elections so that one must assume they are repub leaning at the very least.