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Arkansas U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin is running for lieutenant governor

Griffin, who announced in October that he was leaving Congress, enters a crowded GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Less than four months after announcing he would leave Congress to spend more time with his family, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin has entered the lieutenant governor’s race back home in Arkansas.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

In interviews with local Little Rock media February 13, Griffin said serving as lieutenant governor would allow him to remain with his young children in Arkansas rather than living in Washington.

The state’s number two spot would also set up Griffin for a potential run for governor in 2018.

Griffin, a former U.S. Attorney and aide to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, won his seat in the Republican landslide in 2010 and easily won re-election in 2012. His decision not to seek a third term in the House – at a time when he had $500,000 in campaign cash on hand — surprised the Arkansas political establishment.

His entry into the lieutenant governor’s race has already shaken up the GOP prmary, with one of the announced candidates, State Rep. Charlie Collins, exiting the race. Still in the running are State Reps. Andy Mayberry and Debra Hobbs.

Hobbs had been running for governor but announced February 12 that she would run for lieutenant governor instead.

On the Democratic side, John Burkhalter, a state highway commissioner, is the only announced candidate and has been endorsed by the likely Democractic candidate for governor, former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross.

The lieutenant governor’s office is currently vacant after Republican Mark Darr resigned rather than face likely impeachment for ethics violations. The state legislature is currently considering a bill to leave the office vacant until after the November election, rather than calling a special election to replace Darr.

Analysis: Results in Arkansas Senate election bode ill for Democrats in November

Victory by an anti-Obamacare Republican in a Democratic district may forecast trouble ahead for Mark Pryor and Mike Ross

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugJONESBORO, Arkansas (CFP) — The results of a special election to fill a vacancy in the Arkansas Senate are making Natural State Democrats mighty nervous.ME sm

Republican John Cooper easily defeated Democrat Steve Rockwell in a district in Jonesboro, in the northeastern part of the state.

Rockwell was a moderate businessman in the image of Governor Mike Beebe and former U.S. House Rep. Mike Ross, the Democratic candidate for governor this year.

He was also running in a what had been a Democratic district, in a part of the state that traditionally leans Democratic.

But Cooper, a retired AT&T manager, based his campaign on opposition to the state’s private-option expansion of Medicaid to cover uninsured Arkansans — an expansion made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

Rockwell supported the private option, which Beebe pushed through the legislature last year. While the propoal had substantial Republican support at the time, a strongly anti-Obamacare faction of the GOP was incensed and has been making their displeasure known ever since.

Cooper’s victory may imperil the private option, which will come before the legislature again this year. The first time around, it passed in the Senate with just two votes to spare, one of which was cast by the man Cooper is replacing, Paul Bookout.

But perhaps more ominously for Democrats, it indicates the potency of Obamacare as a issue Republicans can use in November.

Pryor, who voted for Obamacare, is being assailed for that vote at every turn by his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.

Ross may also face the backlash in the governor’s race. He supported Obamacare on a key vote in a House committee, although, in the end, he voted against it on the floor. But he has come out in favor of the public option in Arkansas.

Of the three Republicans in the gubernatorial primary, two —  Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and State Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers — have come out against the private option.  Hobbs voted against it; Coleman’s campaign Web site features a petition calling for its repeal.

The Republican frontrunner, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, has not taken a clear position on the private option. However, he has been highly critical of Ross for his committe vote for the Obamacare bill.

Coleman and Hobbs have been trying to make hay out of Hutchinson’s lack of clarity on the private option. It remains to be seen if either one of them can ride it to victory in the primary.

But no matter who Republicans end up nominating, Obamacare is going to be the 800-pound gorilla in both the races for Senate and governor. And if the Jonesboro Senate race is a barometer of how it may play, that is not good news for Pryor or Ross.

Even more problematic may be the fact that the fight over the private option will dominate the upcoming legislative budget session, pitting Beebe and his Democratic allies in the legislature against a very noisy anti-Obamacare faction for weeks on end.

One potential silver lining for Ross and Pryor: If Republicans manage to torpedo the private option, as many as 250,000 Arkansans who will be thrown off the insurance rolls may get mad enough to fight back.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s decision not to seek a third term opens door for Arkansas Democrats

Griffin’s Little Rock-based district is the least Republican in the Natural State

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CFP) — GOP U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s surprise announcement October 21 that he would not seek re-election has given Democrats hope that they might be able to capture his seat after going 0-for-4 in House races in the Natural State in 2012.

Just a day after Griffin stepped aside, former North Little Mayor Pat Hays announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination for the 2nd District seat. The popular Hays served six terms as mayor of North Little Rock, the second-largest city in the district, before retiring in 2012.

In a kickoff speech in front of a senior center named for him, Hays, 66, said he was spurred into running for Congress by the recent government shutdown.

“Sixteen days in October was a travesty,” Hays said. “Real people are affected when you have the kind of action those 16 days gave us.”

Other Democrats are considering the race, including former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, who dropped out of the 2014 governor’s race this past summer. No Republicans have announced so far.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

Griffin, a former U.S. Attorney and aide to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, won his seat in the Republican landslide in 2010 and easily won re-election in 2012. His decision not to seek a third term – at a time when he had $500,000 in campaign cash on hand — surprised the Arkansas political establishment.

In a statement announcing his decision, Griffin said he and his wife “have decided that now is the time for me to focus intently on my top priority, my family, as Elizabeth and I raise our two young children.”

The 2nd District includes eight counties in Central Arkansas, including the state’s largest county, Pulaski, which contains Little Rock. While Mitt Romney carried the district in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote, President Obama carried Pulaski County, giving Democrats hope that they might be competitive in the district.

Until Griffin won the seat in 2010, the 2nd District had been traditionally Democratic. For nearly 40 years, it was the home base of the legendary Wilbur Mills, and from 1997 until 2011, it was held by Vic Snyder.

In 2012, Republicans for the first time carried all four of Arkansas’s congressional seats. With Griffin’s departure, two of those seats are now open. The other is the 4th District, in southern and western Arkansas, which is now held by Rep. Tom Cotton, who is giving up the seat to run for the Senate.

Bill Halter drops out of Arkansas governor’s race, leaving Democratic field clear for former Rep. Mike Ross

Halter, the former lieutenant governor, says he’s dropping out in the name of Democratic uniy.

♦By Rich Shumate, Editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Arkansas Democrats have avoided a potentially divisive primary for governor in 2014, after former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter announced he’s dropping out of the race and throwing his support to former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross.

The decision is good news for Democrats fighting to hold on to the governor’s mansion in an increasingly Republican state.

In a surprise announcement on July 29, Halter said he was dropping out to avoid a “divisive” primary against Ross and “to help unite the Democratic Party.” His decision came after second quarter fundraising numbers showed Ross outraising him by a staggering 20-to-1 margin.


Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter

In 2010, Halter challenged U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln in a bruising and ultimately unsuccessful primary battle that contributed to her defeat in November by GOP challenger John Boozman.

Halter’s campaign was non-committal on reports that he will now run for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, held by Republican Rep. Tim Griffin. Democrats are eyeing the district, centered in metro Little Rock, because Griffin carried it with just 55 percent of the vote against an underfunded Democratic challenger in 2012.

Halter jumped into the governor’s race in January after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the Democratic frontrunner, pulled out after confessing to an extramarital affair. Ross, who had said he was leaving politics when he gave up his House seat in 2012, changed his mind and followed suit.

However, Halter’s short stint in the race could have a lasting impact by introducing the issue of abortion into the mix in a way that could present difficulty for Ross.


Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

To counter Halter’s support among Democrats who support legal abortion, Ross — who had a pro-life voting record as a member of Congress — moved left, saying he supported Gov. Mike Beebe’s vetoes of two bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have restricted abortion.

The Arkansas Republican Party, commenting on Halter’s withdrawal, emphasized Ross’s change of position, saying, “How long will it take political opportunist Mike Ross to flip flop again and pretend he never changed his positions on abortion and the Second Amendment?”

Republicans have a primary battle of their own to sort out. Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson is running against Little Rock businesman Curtis Coleman and state Rep.  Debra Hobbs of Rogers.

Hutchinson, the former No. 2 man in the federal Deparment of Homeland Security, is the National Rifle Association’s point man for its school safety initiative, He is seen as the frontrunner, despite previously losing three statewide races  for U.S. Senate, governor and attorney general.

Beebe, the popular Democratic incumbent, is term limited, giving Republicans a shot at taking the state’s top office. While Republicans control the legislature and Arkansas’ entire congressional delegation, Democrats hold six of the seven state constitutional offices.

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