Monday, June 14, 2010

TOP STORY >> Elliott eager to build on primary win

IN SHORT: Optimistic Elliott hits ground running after primary runoff victory, but faces tough challenger.

By John Hofheimer
Leader senior staff writer

Fresh on the heels of an impressive 55 percent to 45 percent Democratic primary runoff victory against Robbie Wills Tuesday, state Sen. Joyce Elliott by Thursday was already hard at work, campaigning to become Arkansas’ first black congressman.

Actually, Elliott says, she’s not running to be the first black elected to Congress from Arkansas, but simply to be the next to hold the Second Congressional District seat currently occupied by Rep. Vic Snyder, a popular progressive.

“I’m not sure I accept that race is a factor,” Elliott said during a rainy-day phone interview wedged between two appearances. “I don’t think it’s going to be a factor. Most people have gotten past that.”

Elliott was the clear leader of the five-person May 18 Democratic primary with 40 percent of the vote, while Wills got 28 percent.

Wills has said he would fully support Elliott in her November general election race against Republican Tim Griffin, a Karl Rove protege who replaced Bud Cummins as interim U.S. Attorney in a political move by the Bush administration.

Griffin defeated Scott Wallace in the Republican primary.

Elliott said she would welcome support by President Barack Obama, who carried only four Arkansas counties in his victory over Sen. John McCain in 2008. Pulaski County was one of those four counties.

“I’m glad this first phase is over,” Elliott said. “When I look back, it was as much work as I thought it would be, but some of the most exhilarating. My victory affirms how important it is to lift up politics. We don’t have to reduce ourselves to the lowest terms to get our point across and represent our beliefs.”

Wills sent out campaign mailers widely decried as dishonestly misrepresenting Elliott’s beliefs and record.

How does she feel about that?

“I have made it a practice all my life that what’s done is done, move on to the next thing. It’s important to lose with grace, but essential to win with grace.”

The key to winning in November is one-on-one campaigning, activating a small group in every county and building coalitions, she said.

“I’m making sure people know what my record is and what I stand for. It’s my responsibility to make sure that what’s real is what’s represented.”

As Senate majority leader and during her tenure in both Arkansas houses, she said she had “brought people together working for education and health care and working on issues that have to do with good jobs and living wages, and being fiscally responsible. That’s what my record reflects.

“I am an even-handed type of policy person. I don’t believe all the power should go to any one side. Any close examination of my record will show that.”

She said she expects an aggressive, issue-oriented campaign from her opponent. “We’ll have many opportunities to distinguish our differences and showcase some of the things we agree on,” she said.

She expects a lot of support from Pulaski County, which she won in the primary and which carried Snyder to victory even when he lost all his other counties.

“But I’m going to build alliances in every one of those counties outside of Pulaski,” Elliott said.

She needs to raise new campaign funds, but said there would be a coordinated campaign of the state’s Democrats, including Gov. Mike Beebe, aspiring secretary of state Pat O’Brien, the other candidates for constitutional offices and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, which would concentrate support.

“Everybody comes together and works together,” she said.