LITTLE ROCK (AP) — Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr said Thursday that he’s "moving towards" a 2014 gubernatorial bid rather than his possible re-election, but wouldn’t completely shut the door on a campaign next year to unseat Democratic Congressman Mike Ross.
In an interview with The Associated Press Darr also attacked Ross and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel as too liberal. Ross and McDaniel are potential 2014 gubernatorial hopefuls.
Just shy of six months in office, Darr said he’s preparing himself for the possibility of a run for governor in 2014. Darr was elected to the state’s No. 2 position in November in an election that gave Republicans historic gains in traditionally Democratic Arkansas.
"One-hundred percent, I’m moving towards that," Darr said when asked about a gubernatorial campaign. Darr added, however, that he hasn’t made any final decision and said he’d be willing to opt against a run if a better candidate surfaces.
"I felt called to run for the lieutenant governor’s job. I don’t feel that clear direction yet," Darr said. "I don’t think it’s because I don’t want that. I think ego-wise, of course, I would want that. I want to be open enough to say ‘Hey, somebody else needs to do that.’ If that means I run for re-election and work for a Republican governor here, then I’d be willing to do that."
Darr said he wants Republicans to avoid waiting too late to field a candidate in the gubernatorial race and noted that the party did not have an announced candidate last year until late February. Ross and McDaniel, whom Darr singled out for criticism during the interview, have said they’re considering a run for the Democratic nomination in 2014.
"I can’t wait until eight months before and no one else is stepping up," Darr said. "This is something that started the day after I was elected. It’s something you have to be prepared to do."
No other Republicans so far have openly said they’re considering a run for governor in 2014, though several names have been mentioned as potential candidates.
Darr said he also hasn’t ruled out a run next year — in the middle of his term as lieutenant governor — for the 4th Congressional District. He doesn’t live in the district, however, and indicated it is unlikely he will mount a challenge. Ross, the only Democratic congressman from Arkansas, said this week he’s absolutely committed to running for another term, and so far no Republicans have said they’re running against him.
Darr, who lives in Springdale, said he’d prefer to see someone from the southern Arkansas district run against Ross and listed it as the least likely of his options for the future. Darr, however, laid out what he called an ideal yet unlikely scenario where he could choose both races.
"In a dream world, I’d love to run against Ross in ‘12 and beat him and run against McDaniel in ‘14 and beat him," Darr said. "Just beat them both, knock them both out."
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is serving his second term and cannot run for re-election in 2014.
Darr, who ran partly on a vow to file a lawsuit over the federal health care overhaul, criticized McDaniel for not doing so. He called McDaniel’s decision against suing over the law a "dereliction" of his job. Darr said he’ll likely later this summer file an amicus brief in a separate lawsuit.
He also accused Ross of allowing the federal health care law to go forward by voting for a House version of the health care bill in committee. Ross, however, voted against the bill in the full House and voted against the Senate version that ultimately was signed into law. Ross has also voted for a Republican-led effort to repeal the law.
"People like Mike Ross and people like Dustin McDaniel are the reason why people like me run," Darr said. "I didn’t grow up dreaming of being lieutenant governor or governor, but it’s because of, in my opinion, being misled and being told there’s a difference between a national Democrat and an Arkansas Democrat."
Spokesmen for McDaniel and Ross dismissed Darr’s comments as playing politics.
"The attorney general is keeping his promises and getting things done in a bipartisan way to protect the people of Arkansas and is not inclined to participate in bizarre election-style partisan attacks," McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said.
"Arkansans are tired of the type of untruthful, partisan attacks Mark Darr is using to push his own political ambitions," said Brad Howard, a spokesman for Ross.