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Steep Slog for Democrats to Win Back Arkansas

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democrats’ best opportunity to pick up a seat in Arkansas is if Cotton runs for Senate, leaving the 4th District open.

Democrats looking to pick up a couple of congressional seats in the Republican state of Arkansas still believe in a place called Hope.

They hope down-ticket Democrats will fare better in a midterm cycle without the president on the ballot. They hope the state’s historically Democratic DNA — epitomized by President Bill Clinton, born in Hope, Ark. — still matters. And they hope the personality and platform of their candidates carry more weight than party.

But Democrats face a steep climb to win any of the state’s four House seats in 2014. That’s bad news for the House minority, which is counting on winning these types of formerly Democratic strongholds to net the 17 seats necessary to get the speaker’s gavel.

Just a couple of years ago, Democrats occupied every spot in the Arkansas federal delegation except one. Today, Republicans control both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly and five out of six federal-level positions.

Democrats and Republicans in the state said the 2010 election cycle fundamentally shifted the dynamics of Arkansas, making it more favorable to Republicans over the long term.

“Arkansas has changed,” said Arkansas GOP consultant Clint Reed, a former executive director of the state party. “Politically, demographically, it’s moving to a more Republican/conservative state.”

The state’s seismic political change came quickly. As recently as January 2011, the congressional delegation boasted five Democrats and one Republican. Last year, the GOP took control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction.

Privately, Democratic insiders acknowledge to CQ Roll Call that they haven’t seen signs the pendulum is swinging back their way.

“There’s not a lot of agitation for change,” said an Arkansas Democratic operative who has worked on multiple federal races and was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “None of these [congressmen] are particularly popular, but their politics are right where their voters want them to be.”

Still, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is bullish, eyeing three seats in the state. DCCC spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement that “Democratic candidates have a path to victory and can lead a Democratic comeback in Arkansas in 2014.”

Theoretically, three districts could be in play: the 1st District, held by Rep. Rick Crawford, the 2nd, held by Rep. Tim Griffin, and the 4th, held by freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, all Republicans.

On paper, there is a case to be made that each of these seats might be vulnerable. But in reality, each incumbent appears to be in comfortable shape.

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