Posted 10/28/2012 12:00 pm
Updated 8 months ago
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Republicans should thank President Barack Obama for motivating GOP voters and putting the party on the verge of winning control of the state Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Saturday.
Headlining a pre-election rally in downtown Little Rock, Huckabee joked that the state GOP should give the president an award for "the most effort at recruiting Republicans in this state." Republicans believe they're on the verge of taking control of the Democrat-controlled House and Senate and sweeping the state's four congressional seats in the Nov. 6 election.
"Folks, there is one thing he has done right," Huckabee said. "We should say, 'Barack Obama, you may have messed up being president, but thank you for what you have done to help Arkansas finally become a Republican state.' "
Huckabee, who served as the state's governor for 10 ½ years and now lives in Florida, told reporters earlier that Republicans have made inroads in Arkansas because of what he called leftward drift of the national Democratic Party on issues such as abortion. Huckabee ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 and now hosts a show on Fox News.
"I think the parties are so different now," Huckabee said. "What you see at the national level is a party that has systematically changed itself from a party that was pretty mainstream to one that's become very extreme."
Arkansas is the only part of the old Confederacy where Democrats control the Legislature and governor's mansion. With polls showing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney easily winning the state's six electoral votes and the GOP ahead in congressional races, both parties have been focused primarily on the fight for the state Legislature.
The state Democratic Party accused Huckabee of focusing more on national politics than on what party officials say are the successes the state has made under Gov. Mike Beebe, a two-term Democrat who succeeded Huckabee.
"While (Huckabee is) focused on national partisan politics, our No. 1 goal has been continuing the agenda that is working well for our state, and that's creating jobs, continuing to balance the budget and cutting taxes to put money back in the hands of Arkansans," spokeswoman Candace Martin said Saturday.
Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said the state GOP expected to raise about $10,000 from Saturday's rally.
The Republican push has stumbled in recent weeks after racially charged writings by three GOP state House candidates have come under fire.
Rep. Jon Hubbard wrote in a self-published book that slavery was a "blessing in disguise" for African-Americans and later compared Beebe and other top Democrats to Nazis for criticizing his writings. Rep. Loy Mauch, in letters to newspapers, defended the Confederacy and declared his belief that 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.
The GOP has said it won't contribute any more money to the three, but has not called on them to end their bids. Huckabee told reporters he wasn't familiar with their writings, but said that he had tried to promote the party as one open to African-Americans.
"We're not open to racism," Huckabee said. "We're open to a lot of things. We're not open to any idea or any semblance of racism, and whether a person is a candidate or whoever, it's just an unacceptable position to take.
"Whether they've taken positions that are clearly racist, I don't know enough to say. I do know there is simply no place in our culture for us to think that anybody is better than another person."
Huckabee and other elected Republicans at Saturday's rally tried to tie the state's Democrats to Obama, who hasn't visited Arkansas as president and remains deeply unpopular in the state.
Freshman Republican Congressman Tim Griffin, who represents central Arkansas, dismissed state Democrats' efforts to distance themselves from Obama and other national party figures.
"They may say they don't support the president, but silence is support, folks," Griffin said. "If you stand idly by without objecting, you are at a minimum enabling and I believe you are supporting."