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Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Can Bill Clinton Save Arkansas for the Democrats?

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Calling Bill Clinton. That’s the S.O.S. sounding among Arkansas Democrats.

The former president returns to his home state this week with a schedule chock full of fundraisers, including a breakfast Thursday morning for incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln. She faces an uphill battle against Republican Rep. John Boozman.

In a year when having an “R” by your name could mean easy victory, the question is whether Clinton can save Democratic candidates in Arkansas.

Clinton is the most in-demand Democrat on the campaign trail this year. Arkansas Democrats say he plans to spend a lot of time in the state to rally the troops – and what’s left of his political machine – to victory in the fall. But Clinton has his work cut out for him.

Arkansas has traditionally trended red in the presidential column. The only exceptions since 1972 are Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 and Clinton’s in 1992 and re-election in 1996. Arkansas Democrats have long controlled Congress, the legislature and county seats, but that might change this cycle.

“I think that Clinton can instill a measure of energy, enthusiasm and commitment in party activists that will carry them forward in the next eight weeks,” said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. “I think he can also provide a reminder of legitimacy for traditional Democrats who may sense that the landscape has shifted, leaving them on the outside. I think these efforts can be effective at the margins.”

The Democratic Party of Arkansas sent out an e-mail earlier this week touting Clinton’s events in the state Wednesday and Thursday. 

His first appearance of the day was at a luncheon for Second Congressional District candidate Joyce Elliott at the Copper Grill, a few blocks from his presidential library. Elliott volunteered on both of Clinton’s presidential campaigns.

If she wins, Elliott would be the first black elected to Congress in Arkansas. A recent poll shows Elliott down 35 percent to her Republican opponent, Tim Griffin, a former Bush White House aide, with 52 percent. The seat has been held by Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder since 1996.

Clinton spoke harshly about Griffin to reporters Wednesday after the Elliott fundraiser.

“There is none of the kind of ethical problems and political-abuse-of-power charges and all those other things that have come out against her opponent. And the main thing is he wants to join that group of people that will go back and do those things that got us in trouble in the first place. It’s not about blaming them for the past — it is about what they want to do tomorrow,” Clinton said. 

Griffin has said Arkansans are rejecting Elliott’s campaign because she would be working with the Obama Administration.
Following Clinton’s remarks, Griffin responded: “We are focused on private sector job creation and getting our fiscal house in order, and folks are responding to our positive campaign.”

Griffin has been accused by Democrats of keeping blacks and other Democratic voters in Florida away from polls in the 2004 presidential election. At the time he worked for the Republican National Committee. He has also been accused of a role in the U.S. attorney scandal in 2006, which forced the resignation of seven top Justice Department officials, including the attorney general of the United States. 

Clinton also appeared at a fundraiser at his old haunt, Doe’s Eat Place, for long-time friend Carolyn Staley, who is running for the state legislature.

After that, he popped into a house party for First Congressional District candidate Chad Causey, who has served as Rep. Marion Berry’s chief of staff for five years. A Talk Business poll shows Causey down 32 percent to Republican Rick Crawford’s 48 percent. Causey’s grandfather, Hugh Ashley, campaigned for Clinton during his gubernatorial races.

“The various and sundry candidates can bask in his glow, to their benefit,” Bass said. “They can also benefit from listening to, and imitating, his rhetoric. Clinton knows how to frame a campaign argument effectively. However, I don’t see him sweeping in, and through his charisma, restoring the landscape to reflect its traditional Democratic advantage. At best, he can begin to level the playing field for the remainder of the campaign season.”

Clinton closed the day with a celebration for Lincoln’s first anniversary as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He campaigned with Lincoln in May during her tough primary campaign against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. After a rally with Clinton, the dynamics of the race changed. Lincoln squeaked out a win in the June run-off.

Clinton acknowledged to reporters earlier in the day that Lincoln may be the most endangered incumbent this year, but stressed Lincoln’s position on the committee.

He said the chair is “not only the leader in agriculture policy but controls development funds for small towns in rural America, and she has delivered over and over and over again. So I think if she can make it about the issues, what do we need to do, who’s most likely to do it, as opposed to anger, apathy and amnesia, I think she can still win this race.”

Just hours before her evening celebration, Lincoln announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to purchase up to $30 million of poultry products for federal food-nutrition-assistance programs, providing a boost to Arkansas’s poultry industry and economy. The poultry industry represents one of every six jobs in Arkansas.

At the packed event held inside a ballroom at Little Rock’s train station, Clinton told the crowd that it would be a “terrible mistake” for voters not to re-elect Lincoln, especially given her standing as agriculture chair. She is the first woman and first Arkansan to hold that position.

He hammered home that Republicans want Democratic and independent voters to feed on anger, apathy and amnesia — his theme for the day.

Neither Clinton nor Lincoln ever mentioned Boozman by name. Clinton said that Republicans want to repeal health care reform, privatize Social Security and Medicare and halt the stimulus plan.

Clinton said angry voters should use caution when making a decision: “When you make a decision when you’re mad, there’s about an 80 percent chance you’ll make a mistake. It’s having nothing to do about politics,” he said. “Think about your whole life.”

And what should Democrats do to win in November? “Get out and tell our side of the story,” Clinton said.

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Written by suziparker1313

March 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm

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