Skip to comments.Republicans looking for Lincoln challenger
Posted on 05/06/2003 12:43:03 PM PDT by LdSentinal
As the Arkansas Legislature opened a special session Monday to resolve a $200 million budget dispute, state Republicans were still searching for a candidate to challenge Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln next year.
Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had been expected by some party officials to make a decision by late last week, has postponed any announcement for now, GOP leaders said.
Gunner DeLay, first vice chairman of the state GOP and a possible Senate contender if Huckabee bows out, said early last week that Huckabee would be meeting with Republican leaders Friday to make his plans known.
Marty Ryall, chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, and Mitchell Lowe, its executive director, said Sunday that there were no closed-door meetings and that the governor had not made any decisions.
"All we know is that the governor is focused on the upcoming session," Lowe said. Referring to the talk between the governor and GOP officials, Ryall added: "I think that meetingâs probably 10 days to two weeks from now."
The governor earlier said he would wait until the state Legislature has hammered out a two-year budget before declaring his intentions about taking on the first-term senator.
Huckabee spokesman Jim Harris said the special session, which pits the Democratic majority in the state Legislature against a bipartisan band of conservatives opposed to raising sales and tobacco taxes, should last a week.
State Republicans have made it clear that Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist preacher who has won statewide election four times, is their preference.
"I think the governor's the 800-pound gorilla, so to speak," Lowe said. "All of our potential candidates would defer to him."
Asa Hutchinson, also frequently cited by Republicans as a possible Senate candidate, has indicated he has no plans to run. But Hutchinson, undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security, has said it would be tough to turn down the president if he asks him to take on Lincoln.
Hutchinson, a former congressman who was involved in the impeachment effort against President Clinton, has indicated he's more interested in running for Arkansas governor in 2006.
Lincoln has portrayed herself as a centrist -- supporting the war in Iraq and the $1.3 trillion tax cut in 2001 while fighting for inclusion of gender, sexual orientation and disability in federal hate-crime protections and requiring criminal background checks for gun-show purchases.
The senator, who earlier represented the state's 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House, has more than $1.2 million in the bank and raised more than $670,000 in the first quarter of 2003, her Federal Election Commission report says.
Arkansas is one of a handful of states with Democratic senators targeted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Others include North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Washington and South Dakota.
Republicans also have high expectations in Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Zell Miller is stepping down next year.
The Republicans' trouble recruiting a candidate in Arkansas comes as the party is scrambling to find contenders in Washington to take on Sen. Patty Murray, and in Illinois, to run against one of the five Democrats vying for the seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.
On Monday, the president visited Arkansas to tout his tax cut.
Mark Sanford and Tim Pawlenty also get five stars (in addition to Jeb and Owens).
Some of the others are pretty solid as well: Hoeven, Leavitt, Kempthorne, Perry, Ehrlich in a tough state, Mitt in a tough state, Don Carcieri, Craig Benson, Mike Rounds.
Huckabee's done some sketchy things but he's still decent.