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Arkansas’ ‘Shining Star’ Takes the Stage

TAMPA, Fla. – Tim Griffin is going places, and relatively fast.

He appears poised to run for statewide office – likely next cycle.

But on Tuesday, the freshman Congressman from the Little Rock-based 2nd district is on his way to the Tampa Bay Times Forum. He is sitting in the second row of a heavily air conditioned SUV.

Griffin appears a little antsy, and it’s not the dozens of heavily armed police surrounding the car. He is about to be one of the very few freshman Members of the House to give a speech to the Republican National Convention.

Driving through one of a few security checkpoints to get to the arena, Griffin is asked whether he’s nervous.

“I’ve never done anything like this before so …” he says, before being interrupted.

“That means, ‘yes,'” Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack (R) cracks from third row of seats, laughing.

“Yes,” Griffin allows.

The SUV slowly makes its way to the VIP entrance and Griffin mutters to himself. “I shoulda had a glass of wine before this,” he says.

With his wife, Womack, and Womack’s wife at his side, Griffin steps out of the SUV on to a red carpet.

A security officer asks the entourage to stand in a hallway for a moment. Griffin reads over his speech. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) walks in behind them and Griffin shares the best lines of it with her, eliciting a chuckle.

Virginia state Del. Barbara Comstock walks into the hallway, and he greets her like an old friend.

Griffin only took his Congressional oath of office in 2011, but he’s been involved in the highest levels of Republican politics for years.

Years ago, Griffin worked under Comstock at the Republican National Committee. He was the deputy research director. And he wasn’t the only rising star on the research beat.

“Matt Rhoades was in the office with me and Barbara when we took over the office in ’99 and we didn’t know Matt,” Griffin explains later, walking along the floor of the convention, noting Rhoades was really quiet. “We were thinking, you know, we probably will get rid of him because we didn’t know him and we were cleaning house,” Griffin says.

“Then he did some work and we were like, ‘Wow, we’re keeping this guy,'” he explains with a smile.

Rhoades is now, of course, the campaign manager for Mitt Romney.

Griffin moved up through the ranks in Washington, too. He went on to work as a special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff. Later, Griffin went back to the RNC as a research director and deputy communications director before moving on to the Bush White House. Griffin, a JAG officer in the Army Reserves, served as a special assistant to the president and deputy director of political affairs, though spent a good chunk of his tenure overseas in Iraq.

Appointed interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas in December 2006, he resigned in June 2007 amid the larger controversy over firing of U.S. attorneys.

After a few years in the private sector, he ran for and easily won a seat in Congress. He has no serious opposition as he runs for his second term.

Griffin comes on the stage to whoops and applause from the Arkansas delegation. His short speech goes well, and he delivers the red-meat line he earlier shared with Blackburn with aplomb.

“Like a man who is lost, but won’t ask for directions, President Obama has no earthly idea how to solve this country’s problems, yet he beams with confidence in his uncertainty,” Griffin says in his early afternoon speaking slot.

After the speech, Griffin wipes the TV makeup off his face then works his way to the Arkansas delegation. On his way there, he is greeted by a number of delegates from other states who congratulate him and slap him on the back.

When he gets back to his fellow delegates, they give him another round of applause.

It won’t be the last one he gets. Arkansans of both parties see him poised for either a Senate bid or a gubernatorial run in 2014.

“He’s looking at a bigger race in the near future,” plugged-in Arkansas Democratic consultant Robert McLarty said. “He’s very personable and he’s working both sides, both Democrats and Republicans.”

Insiders believe he would be more inclined for the gubernatorial spot, which would allow him to spend more time with his family. Griffin, for now, is mum.

But that doesn’t mean his fellow Republican delegates aren’t cheering him on to other endeavors.

“I think there are great things in Tim’s future,” said Susan Gessler, a cotillion teacher and Arkansas delegate here. “He’s the shining star in the state of Arkansas, he really is.”