Former Democratic congressman Mike Ross will run for governor of Arkansas next year, two Democrats familiar with his decision have confirmed. Ross's decision is a boon to Democrats' chances of holding onto an open office Republicans have been eagerly pursuing.

Ross, a moderate Democrat who represented the state's 4th congressional district before opting against reelection in 2012, is a blue-chip candidate in the open race for term-limited Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe's job. It once looked as though Ross wouldn't mount a gubernatorial bid, but in recent weeks Democrats have been increasingly confident he would run.

Ross is the early front-runner on the Democratic side, but he won't have the field to himself. Former lieutenant governor Bill Halter, a 2010 Senate candidate, will also run.

The Hotline reports that Ross will announce his decision on April 17.

Former congressman Asa Hutchinson is expected to be the Republican nominee. Hutchinson recently led a recent National Rifle Association-commissioned study on gun violence that endorsed placing armed guards in schools. Republicans stand a good chance in this race, given the state's increasingly GOP tilt.