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Sources: Rep. Berry plans to announce retirement

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ANDREW DeMILLO | January 24, 2010 10:57 PM EST | AP

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Democratic Rep. Marion Berry plans to announce Monday that he won't seek re-election this fall, people who have spoken to Berry told The Associated Press.

The three people, who had spoken with Berry on Sunday, said the congressman planned to announce his decision Monday. The people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on Berry's behalf.

Berry has represented the 1st District in eastern Arkansas since 1997.

A spokeswoman for Berry did not immediately return a call Sunday night.

Berry, 67, was first elected to his congressional seat after serving in the Clinton administration as a special assistant to the president for agricultural trade and food assistance.

In 2008, he was re-elected without opposition. This year, he faced opposition from Republican Rick Crawford, who owns a regional agricultural radio network.

Berry had repeatedly said he had no plans to retire, but he fueled speculation last week when he told a radio interviewer asking about his re-election plans that "nothing is certain in this world but death."

"There has not been this much turmoil in Arkansas politics in a long time," Berry told Little Rock radio station KUAR. "I would be afraid to predict anything. I think in the next couple months you could see all kinds of stuff coming down the pike."

Berry is the second Arkansas congressman to announce this month that he was retiring. Earlier, Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder announced he would not seek an eighth term representing the 2nd District in central Arkansas.

Rep. John Boozman, a Republican representing northwest Arkansas, has said he's thinking about running for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Republicans welcomed the news of Berry's retirement, blaming his exit on public backlash to his support of Democratic-led efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system.

"He now realizes that the people of Arkansas were very opposed to it," said state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb. "Now, they will be looking for a conservative to replace him."

Crawford praised Berry's years of service.

"I respect Congressman Berry's decision to retire and applaud his many years of public service," Crawford said. "I will continue to run a strong campaign based on creating jobs, reducing the deficit and representing Arkansas values."

Earlier this month, Berry had criticized the Obama administration for its approach on issues such as the proposed health care overhaul and climate-change legislation.

Berry's retirement comes as Republicans have targeted Lincoln, who has seen her approval numbers slip. Like Berry, Lincoln has faced criticism from Republicans over her support of health care legislation.

Nine Republicans have announced they're seeking the party's nomination to challenge Lincoln this fall.

Berry's district has voted reliably Democratic in congressional races, but Republican John McCain won the district in the 2008 presidential election

Democrats occupy three of the four U.S. House seats in Arkansas, both of the Senate seats and all statewide offices, but the state has seen its vote move increasingly Republican in presidential elections. McCain won the state's six electoral votes with a 20-point lead over Obama in the 2008 election.

Webb said he didn't know if more Republicans would join the race for Berry's seat after word of the congressman's retirement.

Democrats from the district who could be potential candidates for Berry's seat include Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jason Willett and state Rep. Keith Ingram.