Embattled Arkansas Democrats seek boost from Bill Clinton

Arkansas Democrats are hoping Bill Clinton can help boost their chances in a state where few other national Democrats dare tread. [WATCH VIDEO]

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The party is fighting to retain both a Senate seat and the governor's mansion in Arkansas, which has swung hard for Republicans in recent years. 

But Clinton remains popular in his home state — and has retained ties there both personally and politically.

He has already pitched in to help state Democrats this year, headlining a March fundraiser for Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.) that raised more than $1 million for the senator. 

The former president has yet to get involved in the governor's race, but he is close friends with the Democratic frontrunner, former Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), who got his start in politics as Clinton's personal driver in the 1980s.



Arkansas Democrats predict that Clinton will be heavily involved in both races — and said he could help them in a way no other Democrat can.  


Republicans are already seeking to tie Pryor to President Obama in television ads. The attacks are sign the GOP is sticking with the playbook that’s flipped a state congressional delegation which had just one Republican before 2010 to one where Pryor is the sole surviving Democrat.

“In a period where other national Democrats are persona non grata in Arkansas, Bill and Hillary Clinton are still embraced here, especially within the Democratic base,” said Hendrix College Professor Jay Barth, who has previously run as a Democrat for state office.

Strategist say the Clintons can help rev up the Democratic base — especially African American voters — without enraging Republican voters. 

They also have strong appeal to blue-collar white voters who often are hostile toward Obama.

The Clintons are fiercely loyal to their friends and allies, and their relationship with both Pryor and Ross goes back decades to Bill Clinton’s time as governor. 

Clinton and Ross spent countless hours in the car together during those early campaigns. When Ross first ran for Congress in 2000, Bill Clinton pitched in to help him raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Many credit Bill Clinton’s election-weekend campaign stop in the district for putting Ross over the top in the hard-fought race.

The Clintons have known Pryor just as long. 

Mark Pryor's father, former Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), and Bill Clinton were allies during the 1980s. Both Clintons knew the younger Pryor since he was in elementary school. 

Pryor and Hillary Clinton sat next to each other on the Senate Armed Services Committee during their shared time in the Senate. Pryor was an early and ardent Hillary Clinton supporter during her primary against Obama.

“They do help their friends, they're very loyal,” said Arkansas Democratic strategist Greg Hale, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and is now consulting for Ross’s. 

“They're going to do everything they can to help the whole Democratic ticket in Arkansas, and I think it'll make a big difference, I really do.”

The Clintons own a condo in Little Rock, above the former president's library, and return often. They were just back for the renaming of the city’s airport in honor of the former president. 

While Bill Clinton remains an active campaigner, Hillary has yet to return to politics since stepping down as secretary of State. 

Democrats say that if she does get heavily involved in the campaigns it may be a sign that she’s gearing up for a 2016 presidential bid.

As loyal as they are to their friends, the Clintons are also known for not forgetting their foes. 

The likely GOP nominee for governor is former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who led the impeachment proceedings in the House against Clinton in the 1990s. 

Bill Clinton was an active force campaigning against Hutchinson’s brother Tim to help Pryor to his first Senate win in 2002. The former president regularly stumped for Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) when he defeated Asa Hutchinson for the office in 2006.

“There’s no love lost between the Clintons and the Hutchinsons,” said Arkansas political analyst Roby Brock. “I'd be shocked beyond all shock if he doesn't play in that race eventually.”

It’s unclear at this point whether Ross will receive Bill Clinton’s backing during the gubernatorial primary against former Arkansas Lieutenant Gov. Bill Halter (D). 

Clinton did come in hard for Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) when Halter challenged her in 2006, and helped out during the general election as well — but it doesn’t appear that Ross will face as stiff a challenge from Halter.

Obama hasn't visited Arkansas since he campaigned for Beebe in 2006. 

He lost the state by 24 points 2012, a huge swing from Clinton's 17-point win there in 1996.