State Rep. Clarke Tucker, a Little Rock Democrat, distributed a news release this morning announcing that he’s entering the race for 2nd District Congress, a seat held by second-term Republican Rep. French Hill.
Paul Spencer of Scott and Gwen Combs of Little Rock announced earlier as Democratic candidates.
Tucker, who raised $228,000 to win his first state legislative race against Republican Stacy Hurst four years ago, has demonstrated the connections to make a strong financial showing. Spencer has done well so far as a grassroots candidate refusing to take PAC money, raising some $150,000 from 2,000 small donors. Combs, who was lead organizer of last year’s Women’s March, has developed a strong social media campaign.
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will face a wealthy banker loaded with cash from corporate sources and PACs. Hill had more than $1 million on hand at the end of 2017, with about $250,000 of his money from the securities industry and bankers, particularly the Stephens Group.
Tucker, 37, is a lawyer — a graduate of Harvard and the University of Arkansas School of Law. He’s been an energetic legislator, with some success joining forces with Republicans on legislation (maternal leave and health care, to name two), though Republicans, seeing him as a rising Democratic figure, have often opposed his legislation simply to prevent him from adding to his resume.
Independent polling in this race has shown Tucker trailing Hill by a margin in the single digits, the margin narrowed by questions aimed at testing Hill’s vulnerability on various issues.
I’d expect to hear something this race about Hill’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, for example. It is popular now, particularly among the 300,000 who gained coverage from it. I doubt you’ll hear Donald Trump as a campaign theme, though some of his legislation and Hill’s voting record will figure. The strategy for any Democratic candidate to win has to be to carry Pulaski County by a big margin and try to close the usual Republican gap in the surrounding counties of the district — Saline, White, Faulkner,
Yell, Conway, Perry and Van Buren. Some splintering of suburban voters has helped Democratic candidates in other states, but the outlying population centers — Benton, Bryant, Conway
There are Trump-tinged issues that will hold value for any Democratic candidate — the Dreamers, education, the failure of Republicans to move with infrastructure projects. The question is whether these issues move voters as well as, say, the fear of Muslims or resentment of black football players who kneel for the National Anthem. French HIll’s voting record presents an opportunity with his support for the worst possible version of everything offered — such as a House tax cut bill wholly designed for the wealthy that was improved (bad as it still is) in the Senate and Republican House strategy to use children’s health insurance as a hostage to punitive legislation.
Hill beat a well-funded campaign by former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, 52-44, in 2014. He widened the margin to 58-37 in 2016 against Diane Curry, who had little name recognition and virtually no money. She still carried Pulaski County, Hill’s home. She’s black and black voters make up a significant portion of the vote in Pulaski County.
This year, there’s some hope that a lively race for Little Rock mayor might help boost turnout and work in the Democratic candidate’s favor.
Tucker’s entry into the congressional race raises the question about his now-open seat in the state House. Some names going around on the Democratic side: Andrew Collins, Jennifer Belt, Jesse Gibson, Chad Causey, Jordan Johson, Tyler Denton. Will Stacy Hurst leave a six-figure job as the figurehead
Here’s Tucker’s announcement release. It focuses on his Arkansas roots (seven generations, though Hill claims nine) and emphasizes a need for “new leadership that will “reach across the aisle.” His prepared statement:
I am excited to announce my candidacy to represent the honorable, decent, hardworking families of Central Arkansas in Congress. Throughout my life, my own family has taught me the values of hard work, opportunity, integrity, loyalty, and a duty to serve. I’ve worked to uphold those values in my public service, and I teach them to my two children every day,” said Clarke.
“But my life changed last year. As I lived through and beat cancer, I watched as Congress voted to make our healthcare more expensive, undo good programs like Arkansas Works, and strip away health care for Arkansans with pre-existing conditions. I have watched as politicians used children’s health insurance as a bargaining chip, placing greater loyalty to their political party than to our state and country, and I decided I could no longer stand by and watch.”
Paul Spencer responded to the announcement:
“I want to welcome State Representative Clarke Tucker into this race and reaffirm my belief that a vigorous, policy-focused debate between competing campaigns is always healthy for our democracy. The Democratic Party has always fostered multiple points of view, and we believe Arkansans will be well-served by the strong and differing policy positions we represent.
The people of Arkansas, and Americans across the nation, are seeking solutions that the political establishment and D. C. consultants have failed to offer in recent years. They are tired of tepid incremental policies that fail to address the systemic underlying problem of the ever-widening inequality that defines American life in the 21st century.
It is no longer acceptable simply to play defense in response to the dystopian legislative agenda of the modern Republican party and Representative French Hill. If Democrats want to win back House Districts like the Second, we must no longer be afraid of making bold, progressive demands on the issues that matter most to average Americans, such as Medicare For All, a $15/ hour minimum wage, paid maternity leave, automatic voter registration, fair tax reform for workers, rural broadband access, debt-free higher education, and comprehensive campaign finance reform that addresses the special interest control of Washington D.C.
I look forward to discussing these and other issues in the primary campaign and to continuing to reach out and visit with the voters in every community of the Second District.”
Gwen Combs welcomed Tucker, too, but took a dig at him for a privileged background similar to Hill’s and said, “I’m in it to win it.” Her statement:
Combs, a Little Rock public school teacher and U.S. Air Force veteran, contends that she has both the supporters and the momentum needed to unseat Hill, a retired and wealthy banker who alleges to represent constituents living in Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District – even though his recent votes on healthcare and tax “reform” would suggest otherwise.
Tucker’s background is too similar to that of Hill’s, Combs said.
“Voters are looking at the 2018 midterms as an opportunity to elect candidates who understand what it’s like to be an Arkansan who doesn’t come from money or privilege,” she said. “I am a candidate of the people, for the people.”
Combs said that her role as a public school teacher has helped her become intimately familiar with the needs of Arkansas students and their families, whether they live in the rural, suburban or inner-city areas of the 2nd Congressional District. She also understands what it means to be a veteran in search of support and healthcare after service to the country.
Combs contends that the number of first-time candidates who are women clearly reflects a collective desire for dramatic change in the makeup of state and federal leadership.
“The root cause of our struggle is the power differential between men and women in local, state and federal government,” Combs explained. “If we hope to level the playing field, we need to have more representation of women and other marginalized populations in positions where we can truly make a difference.”
She also understands the significance of what it means to be a woman seeking to enter the political arena, which has long been dominated by men.
“After years of grappling with – at best, inequities in pay and promotions – and, at worst, sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, women decided that 2017 would be the year to break their silence and move forward as a united sisterhood. And we believe that 2018 will be the year that our voices are finally heard.”
Combs was the lead organizer of the 2017 Women’s March for Arkansas, which drew more than 7,000 people, the largest crowd at such an event in state history. Last weekend, on January 20, she organized and led March On, Arkansas, which featured speeches from progressive women running for local, state and U.S. offices. The march ended at the steps of the state Capitol, where attendees remained for the 8th Annual Rally for Reproductive Justice.
Beyond the march, Combs wants to establish a cooperative sisterhood of Arkansas’s female Democratic candidates who recognize that they are stronger together and that winning elections requires a more concerted effort for women. She hopes members will agree to support and boost the signal of fellow women candidates to increase their collective chances of winning.