LITTLE ROCK — The last time David Brock had visited Arkansas, he was a key player in the wars over Bill and Hillary Clinton’s legacy. Then a writer for the conservative American Spectator, he penned the 1993 article that sparked Paula Jones’ sexual harassment suit against the 42nd president. That lawsuit ultimately led to Clinton’s impeachment.
Returning to Arkansas last week for the first time in nearly two decades, Brock is again in the middle of the Clinton wars. This time, he’s defending the former president and the ex-secretary of state and urging political parties to call off the type of "political smut-mongering" he said he was a part of in the 1990s.
"There’s probably no better place than Little Rock for me to say, ‘I know from personal experience the best efforts of the right wing to market political smut did not beat the Clintons,’" Brock, who now heads an effort to defend Hillary Clinton and other potential Democratic presidential hopefuls, told an audience at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. "The truth won out in the end, and it will again."
Brock’s nationally-watched return to Arkansas was the latest reminder of how much Arkansas will serve as ground zero for the next round of Clinton Wars if Hillary Clinton again seeks the White House. The midterm elections are already serving as an opening battle in those wars.
Though they no longer call Arkansas home, the Clintons loom large in the state’s politics. The former campaign driver for Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial campaigns is running against one of the former House managers who unsuccessfully prosecuted Clinton after the House impeached him. The man whom Clinton turned to for disaster relief in Arkansas and nationally is now trying to reclaim a south Arkansas House seat for Democrats. The 42nd president remains the favorite surrogate for Arkansas’ Democrats and plans to headline a pair of fundraisers for Democratic congressional hopefuls next weekend.
And Hillary Clinton’s consideration of another White House bid has renewed interest in the Clinton Presidential Library, which has released from administration files thousands of previously confidential documents over the past two months.
As Arkansas’ former first lady, Hillary Clinton easily won the state’s Democratic primary when she ran for the White House in 2012. And many of the state’s Democrats have said they believe the party would be in better shape in Arkansas if she had won the party’s nomination instead of President Barack Obama, who is tremendously unpopular in the state.
Whether Hillary Clinton could help deliver a state that hasn’t voted Democrat in a presidential election since her husband was on the ballot remains to be seen. But this fall’s election could offer an early signal to Democrats, who hope to stop a GOP takeover of the state’s top offices.
The biggest test could come in the governor’s race, which pits ex-congressmen Mike Ross and Asa Hutchinson against one another. Ross got his start in Arkansas politics as a driver for Clinton’s 1982 gubernatorial bid. Hutchinson was one of the House managers who urged the Senate — a group that included his brother, then-Sen. Tim Hutchinson — to remove the 42nd president over lies told about his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.
The Senate acquitted Clinton of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1999.
Ross last week indicated that fight may figure into his bid for governor, citing impeachment when talking about how his Washington experience differs from Hutchinson’s.
"There’s 435 members of Congress and less than a handful actually conducted the trial in the U.S. Senate," Ross said. "For an Arkansan to say ‘Send me to remove Arkansas’ only president from office’ shows how partisan he is."
Ross’ comments aren’t the first time Democrats have targeted Hutchinson over impeachment. Gov. Mike Beebe, who defeated Hutchinson in the 2006 governor’s race, didn’t raise impeachment as an issue in that campaign. But other to Democrats did, including a state party chairman who regularly would refer to Hutchinson as "Mr. Manager."
Hutchinson himself doesn’t regularly bring up impeachment, and in 2008 said he didn’t have regrets about his role as a House manager. Dismissing Ross’ comments, Hutchinson said he thinks voters are more concerned about the candidates’ plans than the impeachment fight.
"That’s such ancient history. And if Mike Ross wants to run his campaign on mean-spirited comments that reflect the past, then that’s his business," Hutchinson said.
Whether voters view it as ancient history or fair game this November could be an early sign of just how much sway the Clintons still hold over the state’s politics.