No Democrat represents Arkansas at the federal level. National Democrats are excited about state Rep. Clarke Tucker’s prospects of changing that.
But Clarke’s candidacy is a sign Democrats are trying to expand the playing field to take advantage of what could be a favorable national environment heading into this year’s midterms.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Hill to its original target list back in January of last year. And while targeting an Arkansas district may seem like a long shot, the committee is also targeted districts that President Donald Trump won by much bigger margins.
Trump carried the 2nd District by about 11 points in 2016. Mitt Romney carried it by 12 points in 2012 and Arizona Sen. John McCain carried it by 10 points in 2008.
Hill won a second term in 2016 by 8 points, while a Libertarian candidate carried 5 percent of the vote. The former banker, who serves on the Financial Services Committee, started the year with $1.3 million.
Democrats think their odds in this district might actually be better this year without an unpopular Democrat topping a national ticket. They’re also optimistic that the Little Rock mayoral race will help boost Democratic turnout.
Health care is a central message for Tucker, who’s been a proponent of Arkansas’ version of Medicaid expansion. Like so many Democratic candidates this year, he said he first started thinking about running for Congress when House Republicans voted to repeal the 2010 health care law.
In August of last year, he was diagnosed with cancer. “That really brought it home for me,” Tucker said in an interview Monday.
Hill voted for the GOP health care bill. But Tucker didn’t identify what specifically he thinks makes the incumbent vulnerable.
“I don’t know that I would use that word necessarily,” Tucker said. “I just feel called to run.”“The people of Arkansas have a long record of voting for people rather than just parties,” Tucker said, pointing to the statewide victories of both Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and GOP Sen. John Boozman in 2010.
Both Hill and Tucker claim deep family roots in the state.
Tucker’s campaign announcement touts him as “lifelong Razorback” who graduated from a local high school and received his law degree from the University of Arkansas. It doesn’t mention he attended Harvard for his undergraduate studies.
Tucker expects he’ll need to raise seven figures. He does not have the ability to self fund his campaign.
Tucker didn’t point to specific examples of where he’d break with the national Democratic Party, but he said he wished both parties had worked hard to prevent last month’s brief government shutdown.
“I’m frustrated with leadership in both parties right now. I would support moving in a different direction,” he said when asked if he’d back Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for leader if he’s elected to Congress.
He won’t have the Democratic race to himself. Several Democrats are already running. Teacher Paul Spencer ended 2017 with $128,000.