It was already going to be a crowded field.
The 2014 Democratic primary for Governor — which offers much more political intrigue than many match-ups in the 2012 cycle — was expected to be a heavyweight clash between Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott.
Ross' announcement on Monday (May 14) that he'll not enter the race alters the dynamic in four big ways.
1. McDaniel is now the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and with that label, he'll be an even bigger target for GOP scrutiny with every move and every communique that comes from his office. Republican operatives now know they must make as much stick to McDaniel as possible to poison his positives between now and 2014.
2. Enter Bill Halter. The former Lt. Governor and U.S. Senate challenger to Blanche Lincoln in 2010 never ruled out a gubernatorial bid in 2014, but the room was much more crowded with both McDaniel and Ross in the running. Ross' departure makes Halter much more viable as an alternative to McDaniel among the party base and he's already indicated he'll explore a run.
3. There is room for more candidates in the Democratic field and several are likely to test the waters. A few will get in, namely I think you'll see Little Rock businessman and Arkansas Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter. He could not only self-fund a Governor's run, but he'd bring an outsider image to his campaign, even though he's been a high-profile party donor and big-time appointee of Gov. Mike Beebe.
4. Ross' exit could lead to a Democratic challenger for Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014. Pryor has had wobbly poll numbers and, on several occasions, has riled the party base with conservative votes. He's done this primarily as defense against general election attacks. But Pryor could see a left-flank challenge and with a Governor's primary minus one certain heavyweight (Ross), a more liberal Democrat could emerge to offer an alternative to Pryor.
Ross' announcement that he'll bow out doesn't change the dynamics of the GOP primary for Governor in 2014, however. That race was already shaping up for a lot of position jockeying between folks like U.S. Reps. Tim Griffin and Steve Womack, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, Asa Hutchinson and Jim Keet.
Politics "ain't beanbag" as the saying goes, but a lot of times it is like a baseball game: extra innings, changes in the line-up and the occasional switch-hitter.
For this week, at least, Mike Ross has thrown the political establishment a curve ball and the spectators can't wait to see the next pitch.