Skip to comments.Power in Senate hinges on Arkansas vote
Posted on 05/19/2002 9:54:15 AM PDT by Temple Owl
Power in Senate hinges on Arkansas vote
By STEVEN THOMMA
Knight Ridder Newspapers
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -
- It isn't on the ballot Tuesday. It isn't mentioned in the ads or the speeches. But simmering just beneath the surface of an otherwise routine campaign is an issue that could help decide the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.
It is nothing so simple as war or peace, taxes or spending. It is Arkansas Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson's recent divorce from his first wife and marriage to a former aide. In the morality play that Arkansas politics can be, careers can hang on questions of sin, forgiveness and redemption. Think of former Rep. Wilbur Mills' struggles after being caught cavorting with a stripper, or Bill Clinton with Gennifer Flowers or Monica Lewinsky.
Once a hero to Christian conservatives, Hutchinson is being challenged in Tuesday's primary by state Rep. Jim Bob Duggar. Smiling and relaxed, Duggar is a devout Christian who says God called him to run. He advertises his values by traveling the state with his wife and nine of their home-schooled 13 children. They proudly announce at each rally that their 14th is due around Election Day in November.
To Debbie Query of Gravette, the Duggar children are symbols of a close and loving family. She is not convinced by expressions of support for Hutchinson by his grown children.
"I voted for Tim Hutchinson last time. But I'm disappointed," she said. "We voted for him on family values, and he abandoned his own family. It makes me feel a little insecure about his leadership. He didn't take care of his family. It's largely a moral question."
"The divorce is the reason for the challenge," said Janine Parry, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas. "The marital problem and the allegations of hypocrisy make Hutchinson more vulnerable."
Though an upset is possible in a primary where as few as 50,000 people might vote, Hutchinson is likely to survive it. He has outspent Duggar $1 million to about $100,000 this year and ignored Duggar in his ads, focusing instead on the general election. He announced recently that he wants to get 65 percent of the vote, a strong suggestion that his private polls show him far ahead.
But Duggar's challenge itself, and the bitter sentiment toward Hutchinson from some Arkansans who previously supported him, suggest that he might have trouble winning the general election. Waiting to challenge him then is Attorney General Mark Pryor, 39, the Democratic son of David Pryor, the popular former governor and senator.
Already down by one vote in the Senate, Republicans need to hold Hutchinson's seat to give them their best chance of winning back control in November.
If Hutchinson is vulnerable because of family, Pryor is formidable because of his.
His father was governor from 1974 to 1978 and a popular senator from 1979 to 1996. He now heads the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.
"You know me as Arkansas attorney general," Mark Pryor says in a television ad that is now airing. "But I'm also my father's son. He taught me to speak my mind and to think for myself."
In an interview, Pryor said he would work to cast Hutchinson as too beholden to the Republican Party and not in touch with independent-minded Arkansans. Asked to cite specifics, he mentioned Hutchinson voting when he was in the House of Representatives, before his election to the Senate, to abolish the Department of Education and his support for school vouchers.
Pryor would not comment on Hutchinson's divorce. But he did volunteer his thoughts about Hutchinson's primary opponent.
"Jim Bob Duggar is a real decent guy," Pryor said. "He's a man of conviction. He has a wonderful family."
Hutchinson, 52, knows he is in trouble. Some of it stems simply from the fact that Arkansas is a conservative but populist swing state, where a string of successful Democrats led by former Sens. Dale Bumpers and David Pryor and former Gov. (and President) Clinton resisted the Republican tide that swept the rest of the South.
Hutchinson also knows he has disappointed and angered many supporters who saw him as a champion of family values. He is a graduate of the fundamentalist Christian Bob Jones University, a former Baptist minister and founder of a Christian school. In 1996 he became the first Republican elected to the Senate from Arkansas since 1879.
In Congress, the Hutchinson name stood for family values, particularly marriage. Brother Asa Hutchinson won a seat in the House and was one of the impeachment managers who prosecuted Clinton on charges of lying under oath to conceal his relationship with Lewinsky. As a senator, Tim Hutchinson voted to convict Clinton.
Then came his 1999 divorce and remarriage a year later. Duggar launched his primary challenge in 2001.
"It's given me the opportunity to go back to those who were disappointed in my divorce and remarriage and talk to them again," Hutchinson said. "I've done it again and again with small groups. Most have been very supporting and forgiving."
But not all, and certainly not those who showed up to see Duggar and his family on a cool spring evening in the old hillside resort of Hot Springs.
Duggar also will not talk about Hutchinson's divorce. But he has virtually no differences with the senator on substantive issues, except his own refusal to accept campaign money from the gambling, liquor or tobacco industries.
Instead, his campaign is largely a moral crusade. His political creed for government leaders includes a warning about lust and the danger of "physical or mental adultery" and the "appearances of evil."
Even his father, Jim Duggar, concedes that a convincing apology from Hutchinson might have kept his son out of the race.
"He hasn't asked publicly for forgiveness," said the elder Duggar. "If he has, I haven't seen it. That probably would have made a difference to Jim Bob."
Said Duggar's mother, Mary Duggar, "God forgives and we should forgive. But there are always consequences for actions. And he hasn't asked for forgiveness."
Duggar, 36, his wife and their older children travel the state in a red 15-passenger Ford van with a bumper sticker proclaiming, "Evolution is a lie." Their rallies start with their children playing familiar songs such as "Dixie" and "Amazing Grace" on their violins. Then they sing their theme song with the refrain: "Could you please vote for our daddy?"
Speaking last at one typical rally this week, Duggar proclaimed: "My family and my faith in God are my No. 1 priority."
Hot Springs, Ark. Isn't that where some pervert is building a Presidential Library?