We lack a good indication of what the voters of the 2nd Congressional District in Central Arkansas think of their four Democratic candidates and one incumbent Republican.
But we know that establishment Democrats in Washington prefer Clarke Tucker, the 37-year-old lawyer and state representative from Little Rock, as the winner of their primary. And now we have reason to suspect that establishment Republicans in Washington fear this same Tucker the most.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, extolled Tucker on Friday. He told reporters that the 37-year-old lawyer and state representative from Little Rock was the DCCC's preferred candidate in the four-person Democratic primary in the 2nd District of Arkansas.
The Tucker campaign did not comment. Not even a thank-you. Not so much as an indifferent "that's nice."
The young Little Rockian is smart and accomplished. That's why the DCCC is all over him as an opponent for Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill, even as Tucker faces three worthy local primary challengers back home where the voters are.
A smart and accomplished young politician knows better than to express delight that Washington Democratic insiders are trying to tell Central Arkansas voters to support him.
Tucker told the New York Times a couple of weeks ago--when the Times said without attribution that the DCCC had actively recruited Tucker--that he believed the public mood was to "throw the bums out" and that he would be emphasizing that theme.
Doesn't it risk making Tucker himself a "bum," so to speak, for the chairman of the DCCC to tell reporters in Washington that Washington Democrats want Tucker as the nominee from Central Arkansas?
I grasp the paradox, from personal experience.
From the day Tucker announced, I've practically endorsed him on the record of his life and career as well as from personal familiarity with his intelligence, decency and integrity. But I was properly shamed for patting the heads of the other three passionate, hardworking Democratic candidates who deserve fair consideration--Gwen Combs, organizer of the women's march in Little Rock; Paul Spencer, a civic advocate for ethics reform in politics; and Jonathan Dunkley, a Clinton School official whose name I couldn't seem to recall for the first couple of weeks of his candidacy even as he distinguished himself for unapologetic progressivism.
I am baffled by the DCCC's pre-emptive endorsement of Tucker, but not on merit or even fairness. I share the preference. And political parties may run their own nominating business as they please.
The Democratic National Committee and the state party impose primary-neutrality by chosen rule. But the DCCC, consisting of the elected Democratic congressmen themselves, may do as it wishes.
My recoiling is based on incompetent tactics. Raging anti-establishment fervor is steadily weakening both parties and probably makes now the worst time for a national party to try to influence a local primary.
Real political gains come from the people's passion, not the party's pre-ordained hierarchy.
Whatever difference national Democrats might make among garden-variety liberals in the local primary would be rendered irrelevant by November. That, rest assured, is when Republicans will rail in the Republican-overrun suburbs that Tucker got revealed in the primary as the poster boy for Nancy Pelosi (even though he says he'd vote for someone else to be speaker, because it's time for change).
In that regard, landline-answerers in the 2nd District report getting calls last week that initially sounded like a legitimate poll but turned out to be mere slime-spreading on Tucker. The unidentified "pollster" spouted standard national Republican attack lines disguised as questions, such as something like: Would you vote for Clarke Tucker if you knew he and Hillary Clinton were big pals?
National GOP support groups are the likeliest suspects, and they don't undertake such operations in the middle of Democratic primaries unless one of the Democratic candidates worries them particularly.
Tucker's three Democratic opponents don't have money for so-called "push polls." Anyway, they wouldn't be attacking Tucker for being a Democrat.
Through it all, Central Arkansas, not D.C., is the field of play. Local voters, not Democratic insiders, are the deciders.
In the 1990s in this same 2nd District, the local Democratic Party tended to favor a perfectly fine candidate who'd come up through its Young Democrat ranks--Mark Stodola, now mayor of Little Rock. But it turned out that a doctor with a law degree who was a Marine veteran of Vietnam and exuded personal integrity--Vic Snyder--was better at getting regular people to develop spontaneous admiration for him and vote for him.
To conclude, I happen to concur with national Democrats in their admiration of, and preference for, Tucker.
And I also happen to concur with Republicans in their apparent fear of Tucker as a general election opponent.
I love it when I can agree with both sides.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 04/17/2018
Print Headline: To be admired and feared