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Unfortunately for state Sen. Joyce Elliott, it is now quantifiable that she is running a strong race against U.S. Rep. French Hill in the 2nd District congressional.

Unfortunate? Sure.

Republicans expert at attack advertising will become so alarmed they'll start turning her into the AOC of the South and a suburb-diversifier.

The new poll from Talk Business and Politics and Hendrix College has her down only 47.5-46, which is much less than the margin for error.

Reports are that she soon will file a financial report showing surprisingly bountiful fundraising.

She is on the air with sterling feel-good ads especially appealing to women, who demonstrate in this poll and other recent ones elsewhere--by striking gender gaps--that they have had it up to here with Donald Trump's behavior and the moral anemia of fraidy-cat Republican accomplices like Hill.

Yet here I am, Mr. Negative, right on cue, calling all that unfortunate.

It's because Elliott has gotten close largely under the cultural radar based on defining herself in positive pro-education terms while Hill and Republicans generally reel from the outrages of their president.

It's that Republicans know that some of these women who now say they favor Elliott are soft in that they are cultural conservatives in counties like Saline, where Hill got 72 percent of the vote against Clarke Tucker two years ago, and White County, where he got 78 percent.

It's that Republicans know that the answer is to remind these culturally conservative women that Elliott is known as the liberal lion of Arkansas who is pro-choice and supportive of the precepts of Black Lives Matter.

It's that video showing tear-gassed window-breakers around the state Capitol in June could be juxtaposed with some protest-sensitive comment she made, and that these culturally conservative women would start to reconsider Hill, if not Trump.

Is it that simple? Why, yes.

Two years ago, Tucker closed to about five points. Then U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton--fretful that a Democratic congressman like Tucker might inconvenience him with serious opposition two years hence--came in with his fancy PAC to target identified Trump voters with lying mailings and online ads accusing Tucker absurdly of being friendly with violent illegal-immigrant gangs.

Hill's margin widened to 10 and Tucker could close it only to six by election day, winning big in Pulaski but losing bigger in White and Saline and elsewhere.

I'm not saying it will be Cotton to the rescue again this time. It might be other Citizens United-permitted interlopers.

Hill could even dirty his own banker's hands, although he would need to do better than his opening salvo last week in which he hit Elliott in a TV spot for voting as a state senator for cell-phone fees with proceeds used to upgrade 911 service.

Practically the entire Republican-dominated Arkansas General Assembly voted for that measure. Multiple sources tell me that Elliott's Republican Senate colleagues--including many who can't help but like her, and most of whom voted as she did--are astonished that such an issue would be the one the Hill campaign raised.

Whether it comes from Hill or elsewhere, the heat and competence are about to be turned up.

How should Elliott respond? I'd say more back-in-your face than Tucker, who went heavy with an ad trying to shame the ridiculous Republican tactic against him.

Shame doesn't work in the Trump era, and it didn't work all that much in the couple of decades preceding the Trump era.

Staying on your positive message but counterpunching against bitter attack by giving as good as you get on smartly chosen issues ... that's the way to go.

So what would be the smartly chosen issue for Elliott?

One word. One menace. One atrocity. Trump.

This same poll showing Elliott trailing by only two points also shows Democrat Joe Biden leading Trump in the 2nd District by four points, mainly by getting in the 30s outside Pulaski County rather than languishing in the 20s.

Clearly, Elliott rides a bit on Joe's coattails, although Joe's coattails aren't his own. They're a female aversion to Trump for his behavior and style and general hideousness.

I'd suggest for Elliott a cake baked with selected Trump atrocities and frosted with sneering contempt for Hill's pitiable compliance.

The race probably will boil down to Hill's calling Elliott a frightful socialist rioter and Elliott's calling Hill a lily-livered enabler of the woman-

hating Trump.

That's advantage Hill because, once you get outside Little Rock, liberalism is lethal and Trump remains beloved.

That's except for some portion of these otherwise culturally conservative women who just can't abide Trump. That's the one pot of votes against Tucker two years ago that might not be votes against Elliott this time.

I repeat my vow never again to fall for 2nd District Democratic optimism. But I'm paying more attention.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.


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