In a perfect world — a world where cash and powerful friends didn't so often trump civic duty and ideas in the political arena — Democratic 2nd District congressional candidate Herb Rule might actually give Rep. Tim Griffin a run for his money.
The 2nd District is, after all, one of the last remaining Democratic bases in the state, with polls indicating it remains a left-leaning island in an increasingly deep sea of red. Tim Griffin doesn't seem like much of a fit for a district like that. Elected in the Republican congressional sweep in 2010 — the first Republican to hold the 2nd District's seat since Tommy Robinson in 1991 — Griffin is the only Republican congressional candidate in the state who has yet to break 50 percent in the polls. He's got a far-right record a mile wide. A star protege of Karl Rove, Griffin was up to his eyeballs in Florida during the contentious 2000 and 2004 elections, working in oppo research for the Republican Party there, helping lead the Bush team's efforts to stop the recounts after Bush/Gore, and engaging in what many have called vote caging in the weeks and months leading up to Bush/Kerry. In 2006, Griffin apparently cashed in some of that political capital, sliding into the office of U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas after then-U.S. Attorney H.E. "Bud" Cummins had been forced out by the Bush administration — one of a series of politically-motivated firings of U.S. attorneys that later blossomed into a minor scandal. During his two years in Congress, Griffin has voted overwhelmingly with the GOP, which these days means the far right. Of the bills he's sponsored, none have made it into law. One of his few claims to fame so far has been his "Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act," which only drew attention because it contained an embarrassing typo which meant that had the legislation been enacted, new government regulation on business would have been suspended until the unemployment rate reached 94 percent. "The Republicans have made a big typo in their latest message bill to nowhere," clucked the press secretary for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Looks like they should stop harping about 'red tape' and start looking for the white out."
Yes, in a perfect world, Herb Rule — one of the old liberal lions of central Arkansas, a somewhat quirky but thoughtful man who lets his progressive flag fly on hot-button issues like gay marriage (he's for it), Obamacare (good for the country), help for the poor (he's a long-time supporter of First Presbyterian's Stewpot homeless outreach program) and veterans rights (the fight over a veterans' center on Main Street in Little Rock was one of the reasons he decided to run) — would be a solid contender. This isn't, however, a perfect world.
The most recent Talk Business/Hendrix College poll found Tim Griffin at 49 percent to Rule's 28.5 percent. At least some of that gap is dollars and cents. A block up from Rule's office on Cantrell is a giant billboard featuring Griffin and his family, with the slogan "Fighting to Change Washington" — the first drizzle of what could be a torrent of ad dollars Griffin could pour on if he felt the need.
Meanwhile, Rule has based his campaign so far mostly on shoe leather: beating the streets, yard signs, bumper stickers and personal appearances. Rule's position wasn't helped much by a DWI arrest in Fayetteville on Aug. 9, with Rule reportedly failing a field sobriety test and refusing a breathalyzer test. Rule says he's "100 percent not guilty" and has vowed to fight the charge.
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