Republicans are looking at a shining opportunity along the Arkansas Delta. In District 1, which spans Northeast Arkansas from the Mississippi River to the Ozark Mountains, blue dog Democratic Congressman Marion Berry is retiring. Senator John McCain carried by twenty percentage points over Barack Obama in 2008, yet the district has not elected a Republican since the Civil War Reconstruction.
Despite the historical Democratic hold in Arkansas, this year could see significant Republican gains. "There are conservative Democrats in the first district in Arkansas, but they don't exist in Washington." Republican candidate Rick Crawford said this morning in an interview with TAS. Crawford explained that the Democratic infrastructure carries a lot of weight in Arkansas, and has had such a presence since the Civil War reconstruction caused anger towards the Republican Party, but that much of the state is culturally conservative.
In his campaign, he's running as a conservative Republican -- against government healthcare, against cap and trade, against stimulus, but pro-life, pro-small business. Crawford hammered Marion Berry for voting to advance the Cap and Trade bill, but then switching his vote during its final passage -- although Berry was not the deciding vote at either stage. "He had a chance to be a leader, but he chose not to... [also] the vote for the healthcare bill was his undoing."
Crawford owns a radio broadcast network that focuses on agricultural issues, a dominant force in the district's economy. "I think people will trust the kind of person that knows what it's like to sign the front side of a paycheck...I started 2009 with 2 employees, I now have 10 employees... I know how to grow a business, it's small, but that's what entrepreneurs do. If the government will stay out of our way we can grow out of this recession." Prior to pursuing a career in broadcasting, Crawford had been an Army Sergeant.
Crawford is endorsed by Mike Huckabee, and former Undersecretary of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson. When asked if he would welcome an endorsement from CPAC Straw poll champion Ron Paul, Crawford replied, "I think our district is pretty attuned to Paul, I've never met him, but I think he has a lot of good things to say." Crawford emphasized that he would want to meet him first before asking for support.
Despite the kind words towards Paul, the candidate does not to share Paul's non-interventionist position with respect to the Afghanistan surge. "I think what we have to do, as an NCO [Non-commissioned officer], by the time a general gets to be a general he almost has a PhD in warfare, so we have to have faith in that leadership when they say they want more troops on the ground and they want to implement a surge, they should be given the support they need," Crawford asserted.
The closed-Republican primary is May 18th. Crawford is facing Princella Smith, a 26-year-old former Republican staffer who most recently served as Communications Director for Congressman Joseph Cao. In addition to her age potentially being an issue, Smith might be forced to carry Cao's political baggage. Congressman Cao was the lone GOP vote in favor of healthcare. Smith has been complimented her networking skills, and perhaps some national figures will want to rally behind what could be the only African-American female Republican in the House. The Smith campaign has not yet responded to TAS requests for an interview.
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