|Arkansas Political Profile|
The Clinton legacy still looms in its enormous complexity over the smallest state west of the Mississippi. The former president still has a "polarizing effect" on Arkansans, writes Michael Barone in the Almanac of American Politics. Some Arkansas Democrats, including U.S. Senate candidate Mark Pryor, have distanced themselves from Clinton, who was always an archenemy to the state's Republicans. Others like gubernatorial candidate Jimmie Lou Fisher have basked in his support and courted his fundraising ability.
Historically a Democratic stronghold, the state has recently followed the national trend of dividing power between the two major parties. The Democrats hold majorities in the state legislature while a popular Republican governor presides over the executive branch. Bush carried Arkansas 51 percent to 46 percent in the 2000 presidential election, his closest margin of victory in the South except for Florida.
Arkansas' topography is as varied as its politics. "A trip across the state can lead from Mississippi River bottomlands to mid-America's most prominent peaks; from a legacy of Deep South cotton culture to a town on a Wild West frontier," proclaims the official tourism Web site. The state's primary natural resources are minerals, forests and farmland. Its northwest quadrant, a Republican stronghold, is home to some of the nation's most successful corporations, including Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart and TCBY. In the East, the towns that dot the Mississippi River Delta have typically been counted as Democratic territory.
Before Clinton, Arkansas was known for producing powerful and popular Democratic senators.
"Probably no state in the last 40 years has produced more first-rate U.S. senators than Arkansas: [John] McClellan, [J. William] Fulbright, Dale Bumpers and David Pryor," political strategist James Carville said this summer at a party fundraiser.
Republicans like incumbent Sen. Tim Hutchinson and Gov. Mike Huckabee, backed by a base of conservative-voting communities located the 3rd Congressional District, are among the first generation of GOPers to overcome Democratic dominance. Huckabee won election after the indictment and resignation of Clinton's successor as governor, Jim Guy Tucker, who became one of 14 convictions Independent Counsel Ken Starr's office would win in Arkansas during the Whitewater probe.
Family and personality are important enough in Arkansas politics to sometimes trump ideology. Hutchinson won election to the Senate and became the state's first Republican senator since reconstruction when popular longtime Democratic senator David Pryor retired. Hutchinson's brother Asa, who succeeded him in the 3rd district U.S. House seat, served as one of the managers of Clinton's impeachment proceedings and is now the director of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Tim Hutchinson's son is a state senator and his opponent in the hotly contested November election is state attorney general Mark Pryor -- son of the popular former senator.
"That kind of personal focus can be frustrating for the two national parties. Both see Arkansas as a potential key to control of the Senate and nation's political agenda. And both wish they could persuade Arkansans to see it that way, too, as a historic contest between national forces rather than as a local family feud," reported NPR's Juan Williams in August.
Both parties have poured money and support into the U.S. Senate race, hoping that Arkansas will tip the balance of control in November.
--By Jason Manning, Online NewsHour