Last Thursday, I interviewed Rick Crawford, Republican candidate for Congress in Arkansas District 1. Today, I had a chance to speak with his primary opponent, Princella Smith.
The 26-year-old Wynne, Arkansas native is attempting to replace the retiring Democratic Congressman Marion Berry, in a district that has not elected a Republican since the Reconstruction. Despite the Democratic hold, the Northeast Arkansas district is rated “R+8” by Cook Partisan Voter Index. Hence, this race is a golden opportunity to elect both a conservative and a Republican into Congress.
As of February 20th, Princella Smith wants to seize that opportunity. If elected, Smith could be the only Republican African-American woman in Congress. She has had quite a few political experiences in her young life — speaking at the 2004 GOP Convention, interning for Mike Huckabee and Arkansas Lt. Governor Win Rockefeller, and working for Newt Gingrich and Michael Steele. Most recently, Smith served as Communications Director for Congressman Joseph Cao.
Smith went on the offensive against Crawford, who has been campaigning since last April. “For somebody who has been in this race for a year, he should have this thing locked up… but he doesn’t. It’s not even close [to being over].” She then questioned the validity of some of his endorsements, saying that they came before she jumped into the race and before Berry announced his retirement, particularly Crawford’s support from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Congressman Asa Hutchinson. “Mike Huckabee has known me since I was a teenager. He knew my parents before that. He is a personal supporter of Princella Smith. He endorsed Crawford but that was before Berry dropped out, before I was rumored to get in this year,” Smith asserted. Smith claims support from Newt Gingrich, Dana Perino, Mary Matalin, and several Arkansas politicians and business figures.
Despite Smith’s youth, she argued that she had a “better handle on the issues,” than Crawford — saying that constituents appreciate a candidate who “knows how Washington works.” When comparing herself to Crawford, she cited her political experience. “When you go to Congress, you need to know what’s going on in the nation because your vote affects not only your district but the entire country.”
A question that remains is whether her Republican experiences will help or hurt with conservative voters. Smith contended that she was not rooted in the Washington GOP establishment, pointing out that she has lived all but four years of her life in Arkansas. “All that I am and ever hope to be is because of the people of Arkansas,” Smith attested.
Differentiating herself from Crawford, she continued,
Crawford’s platform is largely that he’s from Craighead County, that he has a family and that he ran a business. That’s great … but I think Americans are calling for a little more than that. I know that Arkansans are … I’m a much better campaigner. I have a lot more passion on the principles of representing the district. I have a lot more energy. More so than ‘this is something I want to do and it’s kind of my turn.’
Whether Smith is actually a better campaigner is something Arkansas voters will decide, but on the issues both she and Crawford both seem to endorse conservative principles. With respect to the House healthcare bill that passed in November, she absolutely denied that she would have voted in favor. Her last boss, Joseph Cao, was the lone GOP vote in favor of a public option. As Cao’s communications director, Smith explained, “My job was to communicate why he did what he did. That’s it … He pushed the button himself. ”
On other hot button issues, she said she plans to pledge not to raise taxes, wants to keep away the Death Tax, and would like to end capital gains taxes. With respect to national defense, she supports the president’s Afghanistan troop surge, saying “we should listen to the generals on the ground.” On social issues, she declared that she was pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.
The primary is on May 18. It is an open primary, which means that if Smith is able to motivate people to turnout and win over some African-American voters to support her, that could be significant. However, if Crawford is able to present himself as the more reliable supporter of economic interests for the district, and has a better infrastructure after a year of campaigning, it may be his race despite the added competition.