Races of the Week

Griffin vs. Elliott

Since 1978, Arkansas’s Little Rock-area 2nd District has been open four times and all those races for the U.S. House seat have been cliff-hangers. In three of the four races, a Democrat was elected—in large part because Democrats put up a nominee more centrist than liberal. Only once, in 1978, did a Republican win the House seat that was by far the hardest-fought race in the Razorback State. In large part, that was because conservative GOPer Ed Bethune was able to paint Democrat Doug Brandon as too liberal for the district.

This year, with the retirement of seven-term Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder, the 2nd District is again open. And the political chemistry is there for a Republican triumph. For starters, redistricting has changed the boundaries of the district so it includes not only Pulaski County (Little Rock) but seven surrounding counties. Moreover, after a hard-fought primary and runoff, Democrats chose arch-liberal State Sen. Joyce Elliott over the more moderate hopeful, former House Speaker Robbie Willis.

All told, it is no surprise to find nationally recognized political prognosticator Stuart Rothenberg (along with Congressional Quarterly and the New York Times) moving the contest in Arkansas’s 2nd District from “toss up” to “leaning Republican”—that is, moving toward conservative GOP hopeful Tim Griffin, a former U.S. attorney and a U.S. Army Reserve major.

Raised in Magnolia, Ark., the 41-year-old Griffin graduated from Hendrix College (Arkansas) and Tulane University Law School. In addition to stints as a special assistant to President George W. Bush and as an aide at the Republican National Committee, Griffin also did a tour of duty in Iraq (and strongly backs the U.S. role in both Iraq and Afghanistan).

Driving himself through the 2nd District and meeting as many voters as possible on vigorous hand-shaking tours, the conservative contender spells out an agenda of opportunity and freedom: repealing the Obama-backed healthcare package, rolling back the capital gains and Alternative Minimum Tax, ending the death tax, and making the tax cuts of ’01 and ’03 permanent.

Griffin prefers to talk about what he stands for more than the positions of his opponent, but, when asked on which issues he disagrees with Elliott, he replies with a laugh: “Just name them.” The Democratic hopeful favors single-payer health insurance, ending the Bush tax cuts, and passing the notorious “card check” measure to gut the secret ballot in union elections.

All told, the chemistry is definitely there for a Republican capture of Arkansas 2nd District this year. But to ensure that result, it will take money, “elbow grease,” and conservative spirit behind Tim Griffin. 

(Griffin for Congress, P. O.Box 7526, Little Rock, Ark., 72217; 501-353-0899;

Gardner vs. Markey

The defeat of conservative Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R.-Colo.) at the hands of leftist Democrat Betsy Markey in ’08 is considered a textbook example of how Colorado went from being firmly in the GOP camp in ’04 to the Democratic column in ’06 and ’08. In fact, it is already chronicled in a most important political book, The Blueprint—How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), by veteran Denver political writer Adam Schrager and former Republican State Rep. Rob Witwer.
Recalling how “soft-money organizations have spent twice as much money as supporting her” and the “Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund alone has dropped $1.5 million to oppose Musgrave,” authors Schrager and Witwer concluded: “In the end, the money, her record and the anti-Republican political environment cost Musgrave her job.”

But, as the saying goes, that was then and this is now. In two years, the proverbial chickens appear to be coming home to roost for the liberal Markey (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 8%). Republicans in the Centennial State’s 4th District have rallied early behind State House GOP Minority Whip Cory Gardner as their standard-bearer against Markey.

“My opponent voted for what I call ‘the four horsemen of liberal politics’,” says the conservative Gardner, citing Markey’s votes for stimulus money, cap-and-trade climate legislation, Big Labor’s cherished card-check proposal (“and in a district with only 6% union membership”), and the Obama-backed healthcare bill.

Markey’s declaring her support for “Obamacare” on the day before it was enacted is something that mystifies and outrages Gardner. As he put it, “She voted against [Democratic] healthcare when it came up in November, and against the Stupak Amendment [to bar federal funds for abortion]. It appears that the White House and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi didn’t need her vote but she gave it to them.”

The 35-year-old Gardner draws standing ovations when he gives his positions on health care: permitting insurance to be sold across state lines, tax benefits for certain kinds of care, and a national cap on medical malpractice, not unlike the bill he fought for in the state legislature to close loopholes trial lawyers were using to get around caps.

Just looking at the Yuma lawmaker’s background in the state legislature—opposing any and all tax increases and unnecessary regulation—one can see what kind of a congressman Cory Gardner will be. It has been said that the left had its turn in the 4th District race two years ago. Now it’s the turn of conservatives—if they rally behind Cory Gardner.

(Gardner for Congress, P.O. Box 2408, Loveland, Colo.80539; 970-663-2679).

Stutzman vs. Hayhurst

“There are second acts in politics,” Ronald Reagan once said, and perhaps the best illustration of that in 2010 is Indiana State Sen. Marlin Stutzman.

Less than a month after he placed second in the five-candidate Republican primary for the Senate, the 33-year-old farmer from Howe (population: 500) got a starring role in a political drama that can be called sensational. A personal scandal led to the sudden resignation of eight-term Rep. Mark Souder in the Hoosier State’s 3rd District (Fort Wayne). A conclave of local party leaders met to select a new Republican nominee and, on the second ballot, they turned to Stutzman over 14 other candidates.

But emerging on top in difficult political situations is nothing new for Stutzman. In ’02, he won his first term in the state house by ousting an incumbent by a margin of 249 votes. When a senate vacancy opened up and a Republican caucus chose the nominee, Stutzman took on the party establishment and won.

His formula for success is simple: hard work and saying precisely what he means on issues.

“I grew up spending a lot of time in the tractor listening to talk radio,” he recalled, “and that reinforced my views that high taxes are bad, that we need a private sector that’s strong and a government size we can control.”

As for shrinking the size of the federal government, Stutzman would have no problem abolishing the U.S. Department of Education (“the states are better equipped to handle education any day”) and, if not abolishing them, taking a good look at where cuts can be made in the Departments of Agriculture and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Bureaucracies like that are so large they’re killing industry,” says Stutzman, “Welfare, healthcare—as many issues as we can need to be turned over completely to the states.”
Standing between Stutzman and Congress is Democrat Thomas Hayhurst, a wealthy physician and former Fort Wayne city councilman. In ’08, Hayhurst downplayed liberal issue positions, deployed his personal wealth and drew 46% of the vote against Souder.
In this open-seat situation, the Democratic hopeful is likely to be a strong contender and the fall contest in the 3rd District close. But it won’t be close if conservatives stand up for their traditional beliefs in smaller government and greater freedom. That means making the late-starting but hard-charging candidacy of Marlin Stutzman a top priority.

(Stutzman for Congress, P.O. Box 129, Howe, Ind. 46746; 260-562-3303;