U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder has seen this before.
Since his first campaign to represent Central Arkansas in the U.S. Congress, the four-term incumbent from Little Rock has been attacked by his Republican opponents for being too liberal.
"Arkansans see through it," Snyder said. "I’m a former Marine who favors a strong national defense. I’m a family doctor. I believe our government should be fiscally sound, and I think it needs to stay out of people’s private lives as much as possible. All of that resonates with people regardless of whether they call themselves liberal or conservative."
This year Snyder runs for re-election against Republican state Rep. Marvin Parks from Greenbrier. Despite repeated requests, Parks declined to comment for this article because of the Times’ editorial criticism of him.
It is clear that when Parks first started making noise about challenging Snyder, he intended to wage a "family values" campaign against the then-single congressman. He has followed through in that direction (the Parks campaign website is highlighted by a graphic box titled "Who shares your values? YOU DECIDE."). But he lost some of his steam when Snyder married the Rev. Betsy Singleton, a Methodist pastor, last year.
Since that time, Parks has adjusted his trajectory, although he is the beneficiary of a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year that would ban gay marriage in Arkansas. This allows him to raise the issue, on which Parks and Snyder have divergent views.
Parks supports the amendment. Snyder says he is personally opposed to gay marriage, but doesn’t think there should be a amendment on the practice, already outlawed by statute. This led to the most dramatic confrontation of the campaign between the two men, during a radio debate on KUAR.
"Pontius Pilate was personally opposed to the crucifixion of Jesus, but some of us think he couldn’t get his hands clean over the issue," Parks said.
Snyder expressed disbelief at being compared to Pontius Pilate. "I am really sorry I didn’t bring my wife in here, the Rev. Betsy Singleton," he said. "She might teach you something about my experience as a Christian married to a Methodist minister."
Parks also believes that private same-sex sodomy not only should be criminalized (courts have abolished the such laws), but that the law should be enforced, although he stops short of advocating direct police interventions.
Snyder prefers to focus on his record. He points to the federal funds he secured for improvements at the Little Rock Port, a new facility at Camp Robinson and expansions at Little Rock Air Force Base.
"I’m going to talk about how hard I work to stay in touch with people in the district," Snyder said. "I want to talk about my service on the Armed Services and Veterans committees, and the need to improve the health care system, increase support for education, and create more jobs."
These are uncontroversial issues, and Parks espouses the same general principles on his website. But campaign rhetoric and candidate surveys show that Parks would consistently stand with the most conservative members of Congress.
Previous elections indicate that voters are comfortable with Snyder, and the composition of the Second District does not suggest a preference for right-wing conservative representation. Parks is further handicapped by questions concerning mileage reimbursement he received during his state legislative career, and his practice of drawing personal income from his congressional campaign fund.
If history is a guide, Snyder is likely to successfully navigate what has become a familiar route to re-election.
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