40 in 2010: AR-02

Cross-posted at The Skeptical Michigander

(In order for the Republicans to take back the House in 2010, they need to net 41 seats. It’s a long shot, but it is possible. By my count, there are 92 Dem-held seats that the Republicans have at least an outside chance of winning. That number will change as we get closer to election time, of course. But for now, I’ll be highlighting some of these seats from time to time.)

During the 06 and 08 cycles, there was a lot of talk (particularly among the left side of the internet) of the Republicans becoming a regional party. With the last Republican Congressman ousted from New England, it was claimed that before long the only Rs in the nation was going to be in the South. And needless to say, there was a lot of crowing about this. But what was never mentioned was the other side of the coin. With all the partisanship going on, there’s the possibility of Democrats becoming a regional party too. With the hard-left turn the Ds have made in recent time, suddenly there may be a lot of conservative Democrats wondering where their loyalties lie. And there’s a lot of long time Congressional Ds that may be sweating now. Don’t believe me? Just look at the polling.

Arkansas 02
Location: Right in the middle of the state. Contains Little Rock and a bunch of other towns and cities I’ve never heard of. It’s a fairly urban district for Arkansas, and is about 75% white and 20% black.

Incumbent: Vic Snyder
Unlike most of the vulnerable Democrats, Snyder’s been around for awhile, first elected to Congress way back in 1996. Despite being a southerner, he’s never had to act like a blue dog. Looking over his voting record, it’s pretty liberal in all facets, with free trade (of all things) being one of his more conservative areas, as well as foreign policy (somewhat). Social conservative? Small government? Not at all. He votes with his party about 97% of the time, is neither pro-life nor pro-marriage, is rated an F by the NRA, and hasn’t met a spending bill he didn’t like. And yes, he voted for all of the Big Three (stimulus, cap and trade, health care). So despite the fact that he looks like a coastal liberal, he still managed to get reelected for 12 years. Although quite frankly, he hasn’t really had to do much to hold his spot, having never met decent competition. Arkansas, despite being southern, has a pretty terrible Republican state party. One thing I do like about him is that he refuses to fundraise in off years, preferring to focus on his actual job. I have to admire someone who willingly handicaps himself for the sake of integrity, albeit with no serious opposition it may not mean much. And while I admire that, I’m not averse to using it against him.

Cook Partisan Index: R+5
Cook Race Rating: Tossup
CQ Politics Race Rating: Likely Dem
Rothenberg Rating: Not Mentioned
Larry Sabato: Likely Dem
(Note that, this far away, all these ratings are geared towards the incumbent. Take them with a grain of salt)

Previous election results:
McCain 54, Obama 44
Bush 51, Kerry 48
Bush 49, Gore 48
2008 Snyder 77, McFarland (Green candidate) 23
2006 Snyder 61, Mayberry (R) 39
2004 Snyder 58, Parks (R) 42

Confirmed Republican Candidates (and their websites):
Tim Griffin
David Meeks
Scott Wallace

Tim Griffin appears to be the early front runner, being recruited by the NRCC and having the best name recognition. He worked in the Bush administration in 2005 under Karl Rove (the conniptions this brings to certain sides of the internet alone makes this guy an awesome candidate). He’s also in the army reserve, served as a JAG officer, and was a US attorney as well. So other than never holding an elected office before, he’s got a pretty good resume. He’s proven that he can raise cash, collecting over $100k last quarter (both of his opponents did not disclose their numbers). His issues page looks standard, although he’s focusing more on the economy than health care. But it is professional, and I don’t think he’s made any missteps so far. Since he’s the frontrunner, that’s probably a good thing.

David Meeks is also a political neophyte, and is also an unabashed conservative. Unfortunately, information on him is pretty sparse (including his own website), so I can’t really give any specifics. His “issues” page only shows the Constitution, which is certainly a nice thought but doesn’t really tell us anything. Obviously he’d be an anti-vote to Pelosi, but there’s no idea of what he’s FOR if the Reps do end up taking back control of the House. Oh well. He’s an army vet (pre 9/11), and apparently worked at Blue Cross. That could give him an inside advantage if health care ends up being the dominant issue 6 months from now, but whatever. On the whole, he needs more substance, but the race is early. He’s received kind words from his competitor, which isn’t bad. And from what I gather, he hasn’t done too bad in getting some grassroots support, so more power to him. Definitely someone to look out for.

Scott Wallace is also a complete newcomer in elected office (seems to be a trend here…), but has been involved in government in various forms (volunteer Sheriff, for example). His big draw is that he’s a small business owner, and is clearly using that as a springboard when it comes to the economy. His experience there is certainly going to help him articulate just why Congress is hurting the economy, and that will probably get some notice. He also appears to be well connected to the community, volunteering for many organizations, which should at least give him a strong home base to work with. However, I don’t know how he’s doing with the grassroots. One big concern here is his inability to keep his mouth shut at certain times. For one, he was apparently fired from a radio talk show, presumably for electioneering and calling someone a racist. He’s also been slinging mud at Griffin, which doesn’t sit too well with me. Sure, it gets him the title of a straight talker, but going after a guy because he’s a father? Harsh.

See that note up on the race ratings about how you should take them with a grain of salt? This is a perfect example of why. Cook is the only one that changed their rating in the past couple of weeks. They’re also the only one who thinks this is very competitive. And how did they come to that conclusion? Why, thanks to Public Policy Polling, which wanted to know if the speculation surrounding Dem problems in heartland were true, and chose this district as a bellwether. And what did they find?

Snyder 44, Griffin 43
Snyder 44, Wallace 42
Snyder 45, Meeks 42

Yep, against all three candidates, Snyder’s within the margin of error. Between that and the complete lack of name recognition any of them have, you can guess that if PPP had polled Snyder vs a moss-covered rock, that too would be a close race. Despite PPP’s massive blunder in NY-23, they’re usually a very reliable firm, and a Dem leaning one as well (meaning no accusation of bias will help Snyder’s case here).

So what does this mean? It means a long time Dem is in very real trouble. His approval rating is 42%, and it’s very hard to get elected like that. Basically, Arkansas is still in the “southern Democrat” world, a holdover from the old days thanks in part to poor Republican organization. Look at those Presidential results above. In both Bush elections, this district was right at the national average. Yet they broke heavily for McCain. Clearly they saw something in Obama they didn’t like. And those feelings are clearly being transferred to Snyder. Needless to say, voting for the health care bill didn’t help him there.

Of course, this could all be temporary anger. Taking a poll right after the health care vote was taken may have inflamed Snyder’s constituents, which may subside in the next 11 months. He’s a long time incumbent, so he’s got to have some goodwill. But there’s reasons to believe he’ll be a weak candidate as well, besides just this poll. He hasn’t had a serious competitor in years, so his campaign skills might be rusty. Likewise, the lack of fundraising this year could come back and hurt him. And if independents keep breaking towards Republicans like they did in NJ and VA, well, what can Snyder do?

I’m also not going to discount the possibility of him retiring. Bad polling, serious competition? He may want to leave while at the top of his game, making sure his overall reputation remains positive rather than risking being kicked out on a sour note. He has a perfect excuse for it too: he’s the father of very young triplets (born early this year). Obviously he hasn’t announced anything of the sort, but if 2010 continues to look like a wave year, you never know.

So with that said, who should be the Republican nominee? Honestly, not a clue. Griffin obviously has the inside track and can fundraise, but his past may come back to haunt him. Is a lawyer who was an insider in the unpopular and free-spending Bush campaign really the best choice for a race that seems to want a small government, Washington outsider? Also, it wouldn’t surprise me to see lots of outside support for Snyder from the netroots if Griffin wins the primary due to the sheer hatred surrounding Karl Rove. Wallace seems like a strong choice (small business owner is a big plus), but I think a Congressman needs a bit more tact. And what about Meeks? There’s nothing wrong with him, but is he experienced enough? It’s a shame that there’s no perfect candidate here, although obviously we can’t have everything. Still, this is the best chance to get rid of Snyder, so it’d be a shame if infighting or a flawed candidate prevents that from happening.