Arkansas Election Line: New Congressional options

Editor’s note: Roby Brock, with our content partner Talk Business, wrote this report. He can be reached at roby@talkbusiness.net

The newly drawn Congressional maps in Arkansas give The Arkansas Election Line project a chance to reconvene and contemplate if the new districts improve or harm the chances of incumbents and would-be challengers in 2012.

The Arkansas Election Line is a collaboration between The Tolbert Report, Blue Hog Report and Talk Business to assess the political climate in Arkansas.

For Democrats in 2012, the landscape needs to shift. There are no strong incumbent Democrats — like a Gov. Mike Beebe — to lead a state ticket in 2012 and President Barack Obama, who underperforms significantly in Arkansas, will be at the party's top of the ticket. Throw in some potential tax hike measures expected to be on the 2012 general election ballot and the atmosphere doesn't bode well for Democratic challengers at this juncture.

But a lot can happen between now and next November. Our assessment of potential candidates begins with the First Congressional District:

1ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, may have had the most partisan changes drawn to his district even though the final outcome was mild compared to what it could have been.

The Arkansas Election Line can't imagine a GOP challenger to Crawford, but there could be several Democrats aiming for a competitive general election match-up against the first-term Republican. They include:

Chad Causey — Unlikely to get back on the horse so quickly. Another defeat and his political future would be done, but he is studying the possibility.

David Cook — Has nothing to lose. He was one of the less conservative Democrats on the stump in 2010, unabashedly calling for health care reform and other lunchbox Democratic issues.

Robert Moore — The House Speaker is term-limited and while he may have his eye on an opening State Senate seat, he is newly drawn in the First District. He could also ride off into the sunset and not run for anything.

Clark Hall — The House State Agencies Chairman led the redistricting battle to unite the River Delta in the First. Could this have been an ulterior motive?

Robert Thompson — The State Senator from Paragould lost his bid to be Senate President Pro Temp. He could easily return to the Senate or could make the foray into a larger arena.

Paul Bookout — The current Senate leader doesn't appear to have higher aspirations, but he couldn't be discounted as a well-connected northeast Arkansas conservative Democrat.

L.J. Bryant — Although he lost the general election for Land Commissioner, the young politician has called on Democrats to remain engaged and turn the tide from last year's GOP gains. He could practice what he preaches in this race.

Steve Rockwell — A businessman from northeast Arkansas. Rockwell almost got in last time, but deferred to his friend, Steve Bryles.

2ND CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, won in a landslide last November and he's already burning up the campaign trail, the fundraising circuit and climbing in House leadership ranks. He aims to stay highly visible and he'll be tough to be beat considering where he performed well in 2010. Losing Yell County in the redrawn Congressional map, Griffin's district got a little more Republican.

Democrats who could mull the race include:
Bill Halter — the former Lt. Governor and Senate primary challenger to Lincoln. He actually did worse in the Second District than other parts of the state, but he has fundraising potential and name ID residue. He could also opt to keep his political name viable through leading a ballot initiative.

David Boling — The former chief of staff to Vic Snyder, Boling finished third in the Democratic Congressional primary behind Joyce Elliott and Robbie Wills. Does Boling still have the political bug?

Robbie Wills — Unlikely. The former House Speaker and Democratic Party runner-up seems focused on building/rebuilding a law/lobbying practice. Still, he raised a lot of money and wouldn't be afraid to hit hard. Never say never.

David Johnson — The Little Rock State Senator had a solid legislative session and has an impressive resume. He would be an articulate, progressive alternative to the conservative Griffin and he has strength in crucial Pulaski County.

Bob Edwards — an attorney and brother of State Rep. John Edwards (who also ran for Congress previously). Colorful and energizing, Bob Edwards flirted with the notion in 2010 and would certainly weigh the environment to consider a run.

Tracy Steele — He's term-limited and still has political interest. He could be laying low for an open seat in the North Little Rock mayor's post, but if there was ever a time to take a free shot at Congress, this could be the year.

Pat Hays — The mayor of North Little Rock would be an interesting candidate. He has a loyal base in an important part of the district and he would likely be a healthy fundraiser. Old guard Democrats love him, but are there enough of them still engaged to make a difference?

3RD CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, was already in one of the reddest Republican seats in the country. After redistricting, the 3rd District got redder.

The Arkansas Election Line is not sure if the Democrats will even field a candidate to challenge Womack in 2012. It would certainly be a quixotic effort. Perhaps John Paul Hammerschmidt could be convinced to switch parties and run — that might be the only viable scenario.

Another long-shot prospect: a Democratic Hispanic candidate. It could be a solid name-building campaign for a first-timer looking to lay the foundation for a future run. And the move could help the Democratic Party court Hispanic voters in northwest Arkansas for future campaigns.

The bigger question is: Does Womack escape a primary challenge? He barely won the primary in 2010. Does a more consolidated, tightly-wound GOP district tempt a Republican challenger to file?

Womack's selection to several major House leadership posts ought to impress back home. We'll see.

4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, was an exception to the rule in 2010 winning re-election by a very safe margin in the year of the Republican.

The Fourth District grew more Democratic with the addition of Yell County, but Ross lost Democratic southeast Arkansas counties. He also gained Republican-trending 3rd District counties.

With political ambition for a potential gubernatorial run, Ross needs a strong showing in 2012. Here are some would-be GOP contenders.

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Beth Anne Rankin — Again. Rankin will likely watch the redrawing of a State Senate seat in the Magnolia area. She performed very well in and around her hometown. If that seat does not look winnable, what's to stop her from another shot at Ross? Granted she lost big, but the environment could be more favorable in 2012.

Glenn Gallas — A TEA Party favorite from Garland County, a dominant population area in the 4th. Gallas has kept his profile high among the conservative rank-and-file even though he lost the GOP primary to Rankin last year.

Lane Jean — A first-term State Rep. from Magnolia. He's unlikely to take the step this year unless Ross self-implodes.

Matthew Shepherd — Same for this first-term State Rep. from El Dorado who has a political pedigree. Both Jean and Shepherd are ones to watch.

Gunner Delay — This would be intriguing. Delay lives near the border of where the Third and Fourth Districts now separate under the new plan. A short move might make his day job a 5 minute extra commute, but it could also put him in a Congressional District against the incumbent Democrat.

Next week, The Arkansas Election Line will roll out ratings for the Congressional Districts (Safe, Lean, Toss-up) supported by analysis of voter trends in key election match-ups.

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