New movies/Opinion

‘Campaign’ a look at Democratic candidate

In this scene from “A Good Campaign,” candidate Clarke Tucker takes a break from the grind to spend quality time with his children Ellis (left) and Mari Francis. The film is screening next week at the Ron Robinson Theater.

There's an old sports-writing adage that contends the best stories are always in the loser's locker room.

While that might not always be true, back when I was covering politics in earnest I almost always found the stories of candidates who failed in their bids to be more compelling. Often that was because they were quixotic characters, true believers or un-electable egoists with colorful visions of the world they wanted to bring forth. They were more liable to say things, to go off script. Losers were almost always better copy.

Clarke Tucker might seem the exception to that rule, but he's not typically a loser of elections. He's in the Arkansas State Senate now; before that he was in the state House. He'll probably have a long career in politics, if that's what he wants, even though the immediate future looks dire for mainstream Democrats. Things do change, generally faster than people expect.

But Tucker lost his race for Arkansas' Congress back in 2018 when he ran against Republican French Hill. Maybe he expected not to win; certainly he knew it was going to be an uphill slog in this suddenly reflexive Red State. I don't imagine that many people who voted against Tucker actively disliked him or thought him incapable of defending the interests of Arkansas' Second District in Congress. The differences between him and Hill were actually fairly nuanced and, were our current mode of political discussion less polarized and apocalyptic, might have been viewed as more generational than philosophic.

But that's not the way we live or argue about things these days.

Anyway, Tucker's campaign was documented by a crew led by co-directors Gerard Matthews and Kathryn Francis Tucker, the candidate's sister and a co-founder of the Arkansas Film Society. The resultant film, "A Good Campaign," will have its premiere in Little Rock at the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $15, and are available at

All proceeds and donations will go to the Arkansas film crew who donated their time and talent to make the film. (The film was originally scheduled to premiere on Jan. 6, but was postponed due to a surge in covid-19; all previous ticket purchases will automatically be transferred to the rescheduled screening date.)

I saw a nearly complete draft of the film in October at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival and think it's very good journalism, remarkably even-handed despite the obvious loyalties of the filmmakers. (This is a movie about Tucker's campaign, not the Second District race in full. That said, Tucker, his staff and family consistently take the high road -- to the extent that some criticized the campaign for its reluctance to go negative.)

As such, it's not as entertaining as it might have been were Tucker a line-stepping flamethrower given to demonizing his opponent. Instead he comes across as earnest and intelligent, a little less naive than Jimmy Stewart in a Frank Capra film but fully as decent. He seems to be what he presents as -- a family man and cancer survivor who recognizes the privilege he enjoys and sincerely means to work to make the world a better place. Were we giving notes on a screenplay we would suggest seeding the character with some potentially fatal flaws -- an addiction or secret tragedy he's seeking to redress -- but a documentary takes its characters as they come.

Bad as it is for the dramatic possibilities, Clarke Tucker just seems like a good guy, an imminently likeable if not overwhelmingly charismatic candidate, with an impressive command of the issues and a Richard Cory-esque common touch. You want to root for him. I imagine that audiences unfamiliar with the outcome of the election might find it suspenseful.

But probably the highest and best use of "A Good Campaign" is as a civics lesson -- it demonstrates the role everyday citizens play in shaping public discourse and civic character. It's not as compelling as Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker's largely Little Rock-shot documentary on Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign "The War Room," and it isn't as quirky and anthropological as former University of Central Arkansas professor Huixa Lu's "40 Miles Below Hope," her film about musician-provocateur Rod Bryan's 2006 campaign for governor of Arkansas -- the first run by an independent for the office since 1940.

But it's honest and relevant, and it allows one the vicarious experience of investing in a political race. And, as Matthews notes in a news release, the 2018 Tucker-Hill race might be the last 2nd Congressional contest to see a competitive Democratic candidate for a while. The district boundaries have since been re-drawn to minimize the chances of a Democrat being elected.

It's a reminder that despite all the ideological rhetoric, there are real men and women involved in the logistical operations of governance, and that the progress is not always made in chunk plays, but by the incremental winning of hearts and minds. It might be true that politics has always been a rough sport in this country, but we have not always felt we had to be suspicious of, much less hate, those with whom we disagree.