Democrats work to flip Little Rock-area congressional seat
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Democratic race for a U.S. House seat in central Arkansas features a state legislator touted by the party’s congressional campaign as its best chance to reclaim the Republican-held district and three candidates who are trying to run to his left, touting a government-run “Medicare for all” insurance program.
State Rep. Clarke Tucker has outpaced the field in fundraising for the May 22 Democratic primary to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill in Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District. Tucker is running against two schoolteachers and activists — Paul Spencer and Gwen Combs — and Jonathan Dunkley, the director of operations for the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service. If no one wins a majority of the vote, the top two will compete in a June 19 runoff.
Republicans have held all four of Arkansas’ U.S. House seats since 2013, but the 2nd District is the state’s least conservative. President Donald Trump won 52 percent of the vote in the seven-county district, which includes Little Rock, his smallest of the four House seats. Hill was first elected in 2014 with 52 percent of the vote, despite national Democrats investing heavily in the race. Democrats have said they believe Hill is vulnerable because of his opposition to the federal health overhaul, which has expanded coverage to thousands in the state.
Tucker, an attorney who has served in the state House since 2015, outraised Hill in the first three months of this year and has nearly $445,000 in the bank. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee encouraged Tucker to run for the seat and put him on its “Red to Blue” program, which highlights candidates it views as strong contenders.
Tucker regularly talks about his battle with bladder cancer and has supported Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion. In Congress, he says that he’d support “Medicare X” legislation allowing people to opt in to a new public insurance plan build on Medicare’s provider network and reimbursement rates. He points to his time in the majority-Republican Legislature, saying it shows he knows how to work with both parties.
“In the Legislature, I’ve gotten quite a bit done by working across the aisle in a collaborative way,” he said. “The approach I’ve had to make those things happen is the same I would bring to Congress.”
Tucker said he worked behind the scenes in 2016 to keep the state’s Medicaid expansion alive another year.
Tucker’s closest rival in fundraising is Spencer, a teacher at Catholic High School in Little Rock who has pushed for campaign finance reforms at the state level. Spencer has reported having more than $120,000 in the bank. Spencer says he’d push for campaign reforms at the national level and would back a “Medicare for all” government-financed health care program.
Spencer’s platform has included a host of other proposals that include an expansion of government-assisted housing and establishing banking at post offices.
“I think our campaign in the course of the last eight months, we’ve solidified some of the things we’re actually running to do rather than just running against,” Spencer said.
Combs, an Air Force veteran and a teacher at Stephens Elementary in Little Rock, announced her bid after organizing marches focused on women’s issues and has about $7,500 cash on hand. Like the other candidates, she calls health care a priority. She says she’d advocate for a “Medicare for all” system, though she hasn’t endorsed a specific proposal.
“I would like to see a situation where people who pay taxes can go to the doctor without paying any more out of pocket than they’ve already paid in their taxes,” Combs said.
Jonathan Dunkley, the director of operations for the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School for Public Service, backs a similar Medicare-for-all plan by former Democratic presidential hopeful and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But Dunkley said he’d also push for a tax on marijuana in states where the drug is legalized to help pay for the expanded coverage, as well as other needs. Dunkley reported having about $971 in the bank.
“I see an avenue for us to generate revenue from an emerging industry.” Dunkley said of marijuana. Arkansas voters approved medical marijuana in 2016, but the program has been stalled in court over the licensing process.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ademillo