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Race Ratings: Can Democrats Reclaim Arkansas Territory?

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) signed new Congressional districts into law last month, and Arkansas remains territory that will be an uphill climb for Democrats to make inroads in 2012. Republicans took control of three of the state’s four Congressional seats in 2010, and the new map strengthens the Republican presence in the districts currently held by Reps. Steve Womack (R) and Mike Ross (D) but creates a slightly better picture for Democrats in the 1st district, currently held by Rep. Rick Crawford (R).

The prime pickup opportunity for Democrats in 2012 will be Crawford’s seat. However, having President Barack Obama on the ballot will be a drag on all the Democratic candidates given that he carried only 39 percent of the vote in the Razorback State in 2008.

1st district

Incumbent: Rick Crawford (R)

1st term (52 percent)

Rating: Leans Republican

Winning re-election won’t be a breeze for Crawford in this northeastern Arkansas district. He was dogged last cycle by stories about him not paying off a $13,000 debt more than a decade ago — and the dust-up resurfaced this month when he said he asked the FBI to investigate whether Democrats had illegally accessed his personal records.

Crawford had only $36,000 in cash on hand at the end of March, compared with his other Arkansas colleagues, who all had more than $100,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. But Crawford comes to the race in this comfortably Republican district in 2012 with the advantage of incumbency. The district is also largely rural, and Crawford connects well with its base that works in agriculture, having been a farm broadcaster covering agricultural news for years. Three potential Democratic challengers are state Speaker Robert Moore, state Rep. Keith Ingram and Chad Causey, who was Crawford’s opponent in the open-seat race in 2010. This is a race to watch closely.

2nd district

Incumbent: Tim Griffin

1st term (58 percent)

Rating: Likely Republican

The Little Rock-based seat shed just one county in the redrawing, so Griffin will have largely the same group of constituents. A strong and disciplined campaigner, Griffin is likely to hold the seat.
Some Democrats in the state are pushing former Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter to take a run at Griffin. Halter forced ex-Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a runoff during the 2010 Democratic primary but was unable to win despite backing from liberal groups and unions. Should he jump in, the dynamic could shift, but at this early date, Griffin looks likely to retain his seat. At the end of March, he had $176,000 in cash on hand.

3rd district

Incumbent: Steve Womack (R)

1st term (72 percent)

Rating: Safe Republican

The new map shores up this strongly Republican district. After battling seven candidates in the 2010 GOP primary, Womack handily beat attorney David Whitaker (D) in November. He should have no trouble winning this northwest Arkansas district again in 2012.

4th district

Incumbent: Mike Ross (D)

6th term (58 percent)

Rating: Likely Democratic

If Ross, a Blue Dog, could survive the wave election of 2010 in his GOP southern Arkansas district, he’ll probably be able to survive whatever comes his way in 2012. Ross garnered 58 percent of the vote last cycle against Beth Anne Rankin (R).

His new district is slightly more Republican than before, but Ross has managed to insulate himself from charges that he is a Washington Democrat by voting against his party a substantial amount of the time.
Expect the National Republican Congressional Committee to get involved in the effort to pick off Ross. But Democrats in the state say Ross is a likely gubernatorial candidate for governor in 2014, which means it will be particularly difficult for the party to hold that district in the next cycle.

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