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In Arkansas, Rep. Vic Snyder’s Retirement Leaves Door Open for GOP

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In January, when Rep. Vic Snyder surprisingly announced his retirement after 13 years in Congress, his fellow Arkansas Democrats were thrown for a loop. Party officials had little warning and no replacement candidate was waiting on the farm team.
As a result, the 2nd District could go from having one of the most liberal U.S. House members to electing a conservative who worked in the Bush White House.
Three months before Snyder’s announcement, Republican Tim Griffin, a former Bush White House aide, announced that he was running for the seat. The day before Snyder’s bombshell, Griffin released a poll that showed him 17 points ahead of the incumbent. Snyder (pictured) said that family obligations — he has year-old triplets and a son who is 3 — were the reason for not seeking re-election.
Since January, Griffin has maintained a steady schedule of canvassing, speaking and fundraising. On Tuesday, Minority Whip Eric Cantor popped into Little Rock for a $250-per-plate luncheon for the candidate. Cantor says that Griffin, a lawyer, will get whatever resources are needed to win.
“The Republican Party will do everything it has to do and help to make sure Tim Griffin [crosses] the finish line in November,” Cantor said at the fundraiser. “The bottom line is the new conservative majority runs right through the Second District. We pick up the Second District, we have a new conservative majority in Congress.”
Griffin faces a Republican challenger, restaurant owner Scott Wallace, in the May 18 primary. Former presidential candidate and onetime Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has endorsed Wallace.
Still, pundits say Griffin is the frontrunner.
Five Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge him. Two of them — Arkansas House Speaker Robbie Wills and state legislator and former schoolteacher Joyce Elliot — are seen as the front-runners.
The National Republican Congressional Committee frequently targets Wills with news releases, pegging him as a flip-flopper and a liberal, even though Wills has yet to discuss his positions at any length.
“I think the GOP realizes that my record of leadership and results will be appealing to voters looking for common sense solutions,” Wills said. “I see their interest in us as a sign that our campaign is on the right track.”
Snyder, now in his seventh term, has consistently been one of Congress’ most liberal voices. And even in Blue Dog Arkansas, he has won every election with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He didn’t even have an opponent in 2008.
His chief of staff, David Boling, is also running for the seat. Snyder, thus far, has not endorsed a candidate.
While metropolitan Little Rock is the district’s largest voting area, the rest of the district leans more conservative. George W. Bush took it with 51 percent in the 2004 presidential election; John McCain earned 54 percent in 2008. (McCain won Arkansas by 20 percentage points.)
Snyder’s appeal all of these years may have been rooted in his background as a Vietnam-era Marine. A strong advocate for veterans, he serves on the Veteran’s Affairs and the Armed Services committees. None of the primary Democrats has military credentials.
Griffin does. He is in his 13th year as an officer in the Army Reserve, holding the rank of major in the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. He has also served in Iraq. But such a resume doesn’t guarantee him an easy time even if he currently has the advantage.
“This will be a very negative race, and I give Griffin a slight edge because he has a clearer path to a nomination over any of the Dems,” says David Wasserman, an analyst at the Cook Political Report. “I think a Democrat could win a seat in Little Rock this year. The problem is, this district is more than just Little Rock. So far, Griffin has run a great campaign, but he hasn’t had to take a real hit yet. And they’re coming.”
The slaps will likely target Griffin’s stints with the Bush White House and working for the Republican National Committee. He was research director and deputy communications director for the RNC in 2004 and deputy research director for Bush’s presidential campaigns. Democrats hammer his close ties to Karl Rove, but Griffin insists that he was never a Rove aide or Rove protégé and did not directly report to him.
Griffin was also appointed U.S. attorney for the Eastern District by the Bush administration’s Justice Department. Bush dismissed seven U.S. attorneys, and Griffin replaced one of them, which in turn created a stink.
“Speaker Pelosi and her Democrats can’t talk about issues like the cap-and-trade energy tax, the new health care law, card check and job creation, so they attack me,” Griffin said. “But I will stay focused on the issues important to Arkansans and will not be deterred.”
Griffin will have plenty of star power for support. In a February event for the Republican Party of Arkansas, Sarah Palin — at her first fundraiser for a state party — singled out Griffin as the kind of conservative Washington needs. Palin did not mention any other Republicans. The 2nd District was the first listed on Palin’s hit list of targeted Democratic seats, although there was no mention of Griffin.
The Democrats will have a harder time bringing political powerhouses to the state. Obama and Pelosi have low approval ratings in Arkansas. Vice President Joe Biden could play well, but may be too tied to the administration.
That leaves only one hope — Bill Clinton — to help save the district for the Democrats.
[Originally posted on Politics Daily 2010]

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February 27, 2011 at 6:51 pm

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