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story.lead_photo.caption State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, speaks Thursday in the Capitol rotunda during the kickoff of her campaign for the 2nd Congressional District. Elliott is running against U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

State Sen. Joyce Elliott doesn't plan to run a traditional campaign based on three platforms to try to unseat U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.

Sure, the Little Rock Democrat said she'll talk a lot about health care, education, criminal justice and "sensible" gun laws, but she said her main focus will be broader: quality of life.

"Life is more important than three things, but they all add up to quality of life," she said Thursday.

Elliott, a longtime state lawmaker who ran unsuccessfully for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2010, officially opened her campaign with a rally Thursday at the state Capitol.

The U.S. House seat representing Central Arkansas has been viewed as Democrats' best shot at regaining a spot in the state's congressional delegation, but Elliott faces an uphill battle against Hill, a three-term incumbent with a sizable fundraising advantage. Independent Joseph Glenn Smith II of Conway also is running for the seat.

Hill, a former banker, has held the seat since 2015, fending off challenges from Democrats in 2016 and 2018. He won reelection in 2018 over Little Rock attorney and former Democratic state Rep. Clarke Tucker, garnering 52.13% of the vote to Tucker's 45.82%.

Tucker's campaign was well-financed, and the race attracted attention from national groups linked to both parties.

Hill plans to continue to campaign on issues that are most important to his constituents, campaign spokesman J.R. Davis said Thursday.

"Congressman Hill is going to continue to champion the issues that Arkansans care about, especially those in Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District," Davis said. "That includes supporting sound economic policies that foster jobs and economic opportunity right here in Central Arkansas, a strong and resilient national defense and a better quality of life for every citizen in Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District."

The 2nd District includes Conway, Faulkner, Perry, Pulaski, Saline, Van Buren and White counties.

Elliott, wearing a cerulean blue bow tie, promised Thursday to campaign hard in all seven counties and hold town hall meetings in each.

She said health care is the primary concern she has heard from voters in the district. Since she lost in her race for the seat in 2010, Elliott said she has gained a better understanding of how politically divided the country is. She said she also has a better understanding of climate change and the "raw emotions" surrounding firearms legislation.

She told Thursday's crowd that she grew up in Nevada County around hunting and guns.

"We had guns in my family the whole time I was growing up," Elliott said. "They were not there for safety necessarily; they were there for hunting. It grieves me that we simply can't sit down and have a thoughtful, respectful -- I do mean respectful -- conversation about what can we do to stop the carnage in our country that is the result of having guns almost everywhere. This is nothing to demean anybody. I'm talking about my own heritage."

As a state representative and state senator, Elliott has placed the majority of her focus on education as one of the loudest supporters of public schools and teachers in the state Capitol. She is the vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the chairman of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus.

Hill was the founder, chairman and CEO of Delta Trust & Banking Corp. before running for Congress in 2014. On Capitol Hill, much of Hill's focus has been on financial issues. Hill serves on the Republican leadership team for the House Committee on Financial Services, and he is the ranking member on the National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy Subcommittee.

He is the co-chairman of the Congressional Skilled American Workforce Caucus and the vice co-chairman of the Congressional Historically Black Colleges and Universities Caucus.

Last year, Hill's bill to expand Flatside Wilderness in Perry County was signed into law.

Metro on 01/17/2020

Print Headline: State Sen. Elliott opens bid for U.S. seat, says run against Hill keys on ‘quality of life’

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