Former White House aide Paul Begala told Arkansas Democrats on Friday that they have plenty to be proud of as they gear up for next year's election.
Headlining the party's annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner, Begala praised Democrats in Arkansas and said that other states are watching Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. Democrats hold all statewide offices and three of the four congressional seats.
"We're on to you, Arkansas. We know what you're doing here and we appreciate it," Begala told a crowd of about 1,400 at the Verizon Arena in downtown North Little Rock. "The eyes of the entire nation are upon Arkansas and Mike Beebe."
Begala also took a swipe at former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year. Begala noted recent polls that show Huckabee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as contenders for the GOP presidential nod in 2012.
"I will pay on pay-per-view to watch the debate between Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee," Begala said. "That will be two of the finest minds of the 12th century going at it."
Begala's speech served as a pep talk of sorts for Democrats as they prepare for next year's election, particularly Sen. Blanche Lincoln's re-election bid. Four Republicans have announced they're running for the nomination to challenge Lincoln, who is seeking a third term.
Secretary of State Charlie Daniels used the event to announce his bid for state auditor next year. Daniels has served as secretary of state since 2002 and cannot run again because of term limits.
The dinner also featured a tribute to Bill Gwatney, the state Democratic Party chairman who slain in his office last year. Rebecca Gwatney praised her husband on Friday as she accepted an award.
Bill Gwatney was fatally shot on Aug. 13 at state party headquarters in downtown Little Rock. His killer, Timothy Dale Johnson, was shot and killed by police after a 30-mile car chase.
Rebecca Gwatney had been selected to fill his vacancy in the state party's delegation at the Democratic National Convention last fall.
"His zest for life was only equaled by his love for politics," she said at the fundraiser.
For more information see Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.