LITTLE ROCK U.S. Rep. John Boozman of Rogers joined a crowded field Saturday for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, describing Democratic proposals as “job killers.”
“Now is our time to step forward,” he told about 50 supporters gathered at the Old Supreme Court Room at the state Capitol. “I’m ready to take that step.”
He said he wanted to helpkeep America from turning into a “socialistic, European-style democracy.”
Republican Senate candidate Fred Ramey of Searcy accused Republican insiders in Washington and Arkansas of prodding Boozman to join the field.
“We have done the heavy lifting, and now the RNC [Republican National Committee] is saying, ‘Good job, guys. Now, take a hike. We have a guy we want to put in there,’” Ramey said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Some Republican state legislators are also frustrated with Boozman’s late entry, and others are backpedaling from their previous endorsements of another candidate, state Sen. Gilbert Baker ofConway.
“I guess I wouldn’t say I’m endorsing anyone,” said state Rep. Jonathan Dismang, RBeebe, who was among the 19 House members listed by the Baker campaign in a news release Nov. 2 as endorsing Baker.
There are eight announced Republicans seeking to oust U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., who has no announced Democratic opposition.
The others are Kim Hendren of Gravette, Jim Holt of Springdale, Randy Alexander of Springdale, Conrad Reynolds of Conway, and Curtis Coleman of Little Rock.
Greenland Mayor John Gray has announced that he will run for the seat as a Green Party candidate.
Republican Tom Cox of Little Rock dropped out Friday, citing business obligations, and Republican Buddy Rogers of Rogers dropped out Saturday, saying he supports Boozman.
Boozman said his entry isn’t late, noting that Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, just recently announced he would seek re-election.
For the past year, Boozman said, he’s “been trying to educate the people of Arkansas” about why Obama’s health-care plan is a “bad deal.” He said he started thinking about a Senate runa couple of months ago.
“I was making a lot of calls around the state, talking to friends and people I have respect for,” Boozman said. “They really encouraged me to step forward. I think I’m uniquely qualified being a sitting congressman for nine years.”
He said Washington Republican insiders didn’t prod him to enter the race.
“Over the years I have gotten encouragement,” he said. “That’s natural because I’m the only [Republican] congressman [in Arkansas]. I hadn’t talked to [Washington GOP insiders] in months.”
That changed, roughly two weeks ago, when news broke that he was considering running for the Senate.
“Since that time I’ve visited with them, but not before that,” he said.
He didn’t mention Lincoln during his announcement.
Lincoln’s campaign issued a statement, not mentioning Boozman, saying that she “looks forward to the fall campaign when Arkansas voters will have the opportunity to compare her strong record of accomplishment for the state against the future prospects of the Republican nominee.”
Boozman has been the representative in the 3rd District since winning a special election in 2001 to replace Asa Hutchinson, who took a job in the Bush administration. The district includes 12 counties in Northwest Arkansas.
He previously was an optometrist and the co-founder of Boozman-Hof Regional Eye Clinic in Rogers after graduating from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis in 1977.
Boozman, 59, is married to the former Cathy Marley. They have three daughters.
He played football for the Arkansas Razorbacks as an offensive lineman after graduating from Northside High School in Fort Smith.
He serves on three House committees: Veterans Affairs, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Foreign Affairs.
He is the brother of the late Fay Boozman, who lost to Lincoln in the 1998 Senate race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, D-Ark. Lincoln beat Fay Boozman, 55 percent to 42 percent.
Baker and Holt criticized Boozman for his 2008 vote in favor of the bank bailout, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, commonly known as “TARP.”
“What they’re trying to do is paint me as a person who is not conservative in that regard,” Boozman said. “I didn’t believe the conservative thing to do was to let us financially melt down. All of our investment banks were failing. They were failing all over the world. Much of that money has been repaid.We’ve actually made $80 billion in interest.”
Another announced Republican candidate, Randy Alexander, accused Boozman of excessive party-line voting.
“Mr. Boozman is a follower, not a leader,” Alexander said.
According to a WashingtonPost analysis of congressional votes since 2009, Boozman has voted with his party 96.7 percent of the time, the second-highest percentage of the state’s four House members and two senators.
Lincoln has the lowest party-support rating, at 87.6 percent.
State Democratic Party Chairman Todd Turner of Arkadelphia said Boozman would have to explain to Arkansans why he consistently supported President George W. Bush’s agenda.
“We all see where that got us,” Turner said.
Boozman responded that the Obama administration hasn’t been willing to work with Republicans.
“The attitude is ‘We won, you lost. Thanks, but no thanks,’” Boozman said. “I’m part of the Republican doctors conference. We have not been included on anything in regard to health care.”
But he said he has been “party line” on key issues put forth by Democrats that he described as “job killers.”
He said those were the federal stimulus plan, a plan to make it easier for unions to organize, the “cap and trade” plan to cut carbon emissions, and the healthcare overhaul.
Hendren, whose son, Jim, lost to Boozman in the Republican primary in the 2001 special congressional election, offered no thoughts about Boozman’s entry.
Reynolds and Rogers said Boozman would be a formidable candidate.
Holt said “if anything” Boozman’s entry “empowers and emboldens us further.”
Coleman said, “Arkansans are looking for fresh new ideas and bold new leadership, and they don’t see it coming from inside the current Congress.”
Baker, by far, has raised the most money of the Republican candidates, $802,000.
Boozman has $292,000 cash-on-hand in his re-election account for Congress, which he may transfer to his Senate campaign.
“I’m running against D.C.,” Baker said.
Baker said none of his fellow Republican legislators have told him they’re rethinking endorsements of his candidacy.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reached 19 of the 23 Republican legislators Baker listed as endorsing him three months ago.
Of those, four said they remained solidly behind Baker.
“I support Baker 100 percent,” said Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home. “He’s still the best candidate. Absolutely.”
Another 11 said they remained behind Baker but only because they didn’t want to break their word. They said that they didn’t necessarily believe that Baker was a better candidate than Boozman.
“Gilbert was the first person who asked me, and that’s kind of how I go,” said Rep. Jane English, R-North Little Rock.
Four said they have either changed their minds and won’t endorse anyone or may consider voting for someone else.
“I’ll give it some thought,” said Rep. Frank Glidewell, RFort Smith. “[Boozman] did kind of stir things up a little bit.”