LITTLE ROCK — The national Republican Party’s political action committee gave six Arkansas Legislature candidates some late financial support Wednesday in the hopes that the GOP will gain majorities in the state House and Senate for the first time since the Civil War.
During a news conference at state Republican headquarters in Little Rock, GOPAC President David Avella handed out $2,000 checks — the maximum allowable contribution — to three Senate candidates and three House candidates.
The GOP’s effort to win both houses was weakened this month when two incumbent state representatives and a former legislator who is challenging a Democrat drew strident criticism for racially-charged writings. The state Republican Party said it would no longer provide financial support to those candidates.
Democrats, including Gov. Mike Beebe, have also criticized state Republicans for accepting support from outside groups, such as the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.
GOPAC, which works to train Republicans how to win elections and sometimes helps finance their campaigns, sees an opportunity in Arkansas to tilt the Legislature completely to the GOP, said its president, David Avella.
"There is no state higher in our priority list than this state right here," Avella said.
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said $2,000 can make a big difference, even with less than three weeks to go before Election Day. Candidates can spend it on newspaper or television ads, or on campaign mailings.
Arkansas Democratic Party spokeswoman Candace Martin said Republican candidates are bending to the will of outside groups.
"Some politicians want to make this election about everything that outside special interest groups are doing and what they want for Arkansas. While they’re focused on that, we’re focused on working with Gov. Beebe to continue his agenda of creating jobs, cutting taxes and balancing our state budget," Martin said. "And while members of the Republican Party were at a news conference about an outside interest group, Gov. Beebe is up announcing 350 new jobs that are coming to our state."
Beebe was in Rogers on Wednesday for the opening of a plastics recycling factory.
Avella said GOPAC is supporting good candidates, and that he thinks some of them could one day get elected to higher offices.
"At the end of the day ... bad candidates don’t get put in office," Avella said. "We want to do our part."
GOPAC is supporting Rep. Linda Collins-Smith of Pocahontas, who last year switched from the Democratic Party, in her Senate race against Sen. David Wyatt, D-Batesville. In other Senate races, the group is backing Rep. Jane English against Democratic Rep. Barry Hyde, both of North Little Rock, and Sen. Jason Rapert against Rep. Linda Tyler, both of Conway.
In House races, GOPAC is backing Rep. Allen Kerr in a hotly contested Little Rock race against Democrat Barbara Graves, a business owner. The group is also behind two GOP challengers against Democratic House incumbents — business owner Mary Bentley against Rep. John Catlett of Rover and educator Bill Gossage against Rep. Leslee Milam Post of Ozark.
Weakening its position to capture the House, the GOP has denounced writings by incumbent Reps. Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch. Hubbard wrote in a self-published book that slavery was a "blessing in disguise" for African-Americans. Mauch, in letters to newspapers, defended the Confederacy and declared his belief that former President Abraham Lincoln was a war criminal.
Former Rep. Charlie Fuqua, who is challenging an incumbent Democrat in east Arkansas, wrote in a self-published book that he believes all Muslims should be deported.
Following a deluge of criticism from members of both parties, Hubbard wrote a letter to The Jonesboro Sun in which he compared Beebe and other Democrats to Nazis.