U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s decision not to seek re-election heartened Democrats yesterday for the possibility — acknowledged by sane Republicans — that the 2nd District now presents the potential for a Democratic pickup. Potential. But even with that gain, it is still a long climb to a Democratic recapture of the U.S. House majority (the GOP edge is 232-200 unless some of the three vacancies have been filled), though polling suggests the shutdown/default disaster created by House Republicans has made a number of them vulnerable.
But I’m interested in more subtle, but also important, effects.
Little Rock banker French Hil has had a long interest in returning to Washington, where he once worked for the administration of George H.W. Bush (otherwise known as the Good Bush.) He’s a solid businessman with deep roots (ninth generation Arkansan, he proclaims on Facebook). He had announced as a candidate for state House, in a district long solidly Democratic. It might be still. Might. But current Rep. John Edwards, term limited, barely squeaked by in one race against a strong Republican with a high-end Heights resume like Hill’s. It would probably be good news for state Democrats if he makes a congressional race, as he’s now contemplating. The likelihood increases that the state House seat remains Democratic.
In the immediate short run, I still think that Democrats’ retaking of a House majority in Little Rock is of more pressing concern to Arkansas than the congressional representative. It is also more doable. The Republicans currently hold an effective 51-49 majority in the Arkansas House. They won that on the strength of at least two hair-breadth victories. Republicans will have more seats to defend than Democrats and there are signs of some vigorous recruitment efforts both by the House caucus and new Demoratic Party chair Vince Insalaco. Hope exists.
So there’s this: National Democrats have been pressing hard to get Rep. Joe Jett of Success to run for 1st District Congress. He’s interested in the seat. He’d be a strong candidate as a successful and personable farmer and Air Force vet. But the minority whip seems more interested currently in that battle for statehouse control. If he were to seek a congressional seat, it might open the door for a Tea Party candidate from his area who made a strong run for the district’s Senate seat. He sees the huge downside for the state in a continued Republican majority in both houses in Little Rock. Washington has arrived in Arkansas Republican Party politics. In issue after issue, there is one correct doctrinal vote on legislative issues, including some without obvious partisan coloration. In the recent session, Republicans mustered lockstep backing in a critical committee to defeat a property tax equity bill that would have taken money from some property-rich small school districts but spread it to many other districts represented by the same Republican legislators. Several decided they dare not cross the dogmatists. It is the same from guns to gays to God to taxes and it doesn’t bode well for all of us.
Apart from the butterfly effect he might have on state House composition, French Hill holds promise of being a Republican congressman like his former presidential boss. If so, he’d also be somewhat easier to take should he triumph in the 2nd District. But an alarming note on that front: One of the phalanx of lobbyists hired with Koch money in Arkansas to operate their Americans for Prosperity political action group gave Hill a warm shoutout on Twitter this morning. That ought to help you as much in Little Rock as an endorsement from Ted Cruz.
UPDATE: Speaking of the 2nd District, you can strike Saline County Judge Lanny Fite from the list of potential candidates. “I’m going to pass,” he told me this morning. He, too, cites family interests, including a rare opportunity to be with grandchildren who live in the Far East while they are back in Arkansas for six months. He does plan to make a race for state House.
UPDATE II: Think the National Republican Campaign Committee is concerned? You betcha. They’re already slamming Pat Hays this morning as an Obama clone and digging up a stray quote from an otherwise flattering Arkansas Times profile to rough him up. And the Republican pitbulls are rolling out Nancy Pelosi again. Same old same old. Voters may be tired of the same-old attack dog stuff. But Repubs think third time of all-Obama is charming.
ALSO: Ernie Dumas writes this week about Griffin, the Republican Party civil war and several reasons that Democratic Party end zone celebrations are NOT necessarily in order.