Gizzi on Politics, January 25, 2010

‘Second Best’ in Arkansas

For 44 straight years, Arkansas has always had at least one Republican U.S. House member including a GOPer from the 4th District (now held by Republican Rep. John Boozman).

But the 2nd District (suburban Little Rock) is the district now most likely to go Republican. When House Ways and Means Committee Chairman and 40-year Democratic Rep. Wilbur Mills retired in 1978, Republican Ed Bethune won the 2nd and held it until he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1984. Since Bethune left the seat, the district has been open three times and each featured a highly competitive race.

And that’s why Republicans from Little Rock to Washington, D.C., were salivating last week after Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder announced that, at 62 and with four children under the age of four, he is calling it quits after 14 years in Congress. Much attention immediately focused on former acting U.S. Attorney and onetime Republican National Committee research director Tim Griffin, who had already been gearing up for a run against Snyder.

As has been the case whenever the district was open before, many ambitious Democrats are exploring or actually planning campaigns for Congress. The Democratic leaders of both houses of the state legislature, House Speaker Robbie Willis and Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Johnson, are expected to get into the race, as is State Sen. Shane Broadway, a former House speaker with widespread contacts.

The wild card in a Democratic primary could well be State Sen. Joyce Elliott, an African-American considered one of the best speakers in the legislature. It’s hard to predict whether fellow liberals would rally to her and what her impact would be on turnout among black voters.

Broadway and Willis are considered moderates, and Johnson is actually quite conservative for a Democrat.    

One intriguing aspect of the race could be Griffin’s close association with former Bush White House Counselor Karl Rove during the Bush Administration’s controversial firing of U.S. attorneys in 2007. Griffin was named the interim successor to deposed U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, who was the Republican nominee against Snyder in the nail-biting close race in the 2nd in 1996. As my late friend, Little Rock political consultant Jerry Russell, used to tell me: “We’re all one big happy family in Arkansas.”   

Click here for more Gizzi on Politics.