Arkansas Democrats gathered at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock on Saturday (June 15) to raise funds, rally and prepare for next year's highly anticipated election, which will see what will likely be a tough re-election battle for U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D - Ark., as well as highly competitive races for governor, lieutenant governor and many down-ballot races.
Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Will Bond spent the evening at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner rallying and working to unite gathered Democrats, some of whom have voiced frustration with Pryor's vote against the Manchin-Toomey bill that would have required background checks for most gun purchases.
"Look, Sen. Pryor has no announced opponent. If you go back and just look at his polling numbers over time, he's always polled higher than the other federal elected (officials), including Sen. Boozman by eight or nine points. He's maintained high approval ratings and that's because people know who he is, which is what we were talking about."
Bond dismissed the back and forth during the last week between Pryor and former DPA Chief Financial Officer Angela Bradford-Barnes, saying that such disagreements were part of the democratic process and show a healthy party debating ideas and policies.
PRYOR: I’M A TIMEX
As for Pryor, he dismissed the controversy and the mountains of attack ads he expects will flood the airwaves the election approaches.
"I'm like a Timex - I keep on ticking," he told a boisterous crowd, later adding that he was proud of his voting record since being election to the Senate, likening it to the U.S. Constitution.
"The Constitution is a series of compromises," he said. "We cannot allow special interest and billionaires to shape our future."
Republican and Democratic insiders have acknowledged that the most likely opponent for Pryor in 2014 is likely to be U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Yell County who represents the 4th Congressional District in Congress.
PIERCE IN THE FOURTH?
With the likelihood that Cotton seat's will open up, State Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, who served as minority whip during the recently-concluded legislative session, told The City Wire on Saturday night that he would be meeting in a few weeks with officials with the national Democratic Party about a possible run for Cotton's seat.
"We're exploring it and looking at it, we're still looking at the polls and numbers. And we've got a trip out to Colorado Springs to talk with the national party," he said.
Pierce said weighing a run for the House includes several different factors, including how involved the national party wants to make themselves in the race, something the party has shied away from in most of the state's congressional races in recent memory.
"What I'm looking at is how they're going to be in the district (and) how we're going to work together."
Pierce said he would run an "Arkansas election, and that's why I want to know what they're going to try to do in my district. That's what we're hammering out. I want to be in control of my race."
He said he understood that a race would require raising funds of at least $1.5 million to win, especially should Cotton forgo a run for Senate and instead seek re-election to his House seat, which he won in the Republican landslide of 2012. Should Cotton choose to run for re-election, Pierce said it would give him pause about following through on a race.
"Well yeah, because you're running against an incumbent who already (has) $2 million in the bank," Pierce said.
A decision on whether to run for Cotton's seat will be made by September at the latest, he added, due to the need to begin fundraising and also getting his name out to the district which spans from southern Sebastian County to Madison County, down to Texarkana and over to Ashley and Drew Counties in southeast Arkansas.
MCDANIEL OUT OF 2014
One individual to attend the dinner made very clear that he would not be making a run for office - Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Addressing rumors that he may decide to run for the first congressional seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, McDaniel said when he dropped out of the race for governor after admitting to an extramarital affair, that was his final decision regarding the upcoming elections.
"I will not be on the ballot in 2014," he said, adding that he would be continuing to pour his efforts into his current job as attorney general and would explore other opportunities once leaving office in January 2015, likely starting a law practice with offices in Little Rock and his native Jonesboro.
But he said his avoidance of the ballot next year may not be the end.
"Never say never," he said with a laugh.
BEEBE ON IMMIGRATION REFORM
The man McDaniel sought to replace was Gov. Mike Beebe, who made clear his support of legislation supporting young illegal immigrants seeking a legal status in the United States.
"You've got to have a certain mental capacity (when) committing a crime," he said. "If you've got a 10-year-old who breaks the law in some fashion…the principal of American jurisprudence (says) you don't hold them accountable for things they do as a kid."
He went on to say that there is "something fundamentally wrong when a parents, guardian or whoever, brings a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old to this country and when that child is 18, you're going to make him a criminal? There's something wrong with that."
Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was the evening's keynote speaker. Other speakers include State Sen. Robert Thompson, D-Paragould, State Rep. Kathy Webb, D-Little Rock, and DPA Second Vice Chair Janet Johnson-Henderson.