Republican Tim Griffin’s announcement last month that he will not seek a third term as 2nd District congressman created a bit of a scramble in Central Arkansas as both parties prepare to campaign for the soon-t0-be open seat.
Geography of the district is an important factor. A former columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau once described the district as “Little Rock surrounded by Oklahoma.” The description fits. While Little Rock has remained a left-leaning Democratic stronghold, the rest of the district continues to shift to the right as the Republican numbers grow.
So far, three Republicans have announced plans to seek the nomination: state Rep. Ann Clemmer of Saline County, banker French Hill of Pulaski County and retired Army Col. Conrad Reynolds of Faulkner County.
Clemmer’s residency gives her an early edge, and it also doesn’t hurt that she is the only elected official of the bunch. She was first elected in 2008, riding the early shift in Saline County as she replaced outgoing Democratic state Rep. Janet Johnson. When first elected, she was the only Republican state representative in the county. Now they are all Republicans.
Before Griffin’s announcement, Clemmer was planning a primary challenge to state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. On the day she announced for Congress, Hutchinson quickly switched from opponent to supporter, putting on a well-attended kickoff for her campaign in Benton.
French Hill may be the best known of the three, although he has never held elective office. He hails from the heart of the affluent Heights neighborhood of Little Rock and is a neighbor of Griffin’s. His name often is mentioned for political offices, but this marks the first time he has pulled the trigger. Like Clemmer, Hill was planning a legislative run before switching to the congressional race after Griffin’s announcement.
History doesn’t hurt Hill — being from the same area of Little Rock as the current congressman. However, geography favors Clemmer. In 2012, over 65 percent of the vote came from the suburban counties surrounding Pulaski. The largest of those counties is Saline, where Clemmer calls home.
The fly in Clemmer’s ointment could be Reynolds, who finished fourth in an eight-way Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2010. He remains a favorite among many in the tea party and his entry into the race makes a runoff more likely than not.
Most Democrats reside in Pulaski County, which helped state Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock get the Democratic nomination in 2010 over former House Speaker Robbie Wills of Faulkner County. In 2014, former North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays is hoping for a similar outcome if any Democrats from outlying counties enter the race. Right now, he is the only announced Democrat.
Geography won’t play as big a role in the general election. Pulaski County is the largest county in the district, with just over 50 percent of the residents, but it will take drawing votes from the other’s turf to be successful a year from now.
It’s important to note that winning a primary in the 2nd District doesn’t necessarily make a nominee from either party the best general election candidate. Voters will have from May to November to figure that out.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.