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GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Clash in Debate

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LITTLE ROCK — Republican gubernatorial hopeful Asa Hutchinson called rival Curtis Coleman’s vow to resist some deployments of the Arkansas National Guard “inflammatory rhetoric” as the two squared off in a debate on Saturday.

Coleman in exchange criticized Hutchinson’s past endorsement of Eric Holder as President Obama’s pick for attorney general.

The two men seeking the GOP nomination in the May 20th primary clashed over several issues at the debate held by the Arkansas Federation of Young Republicans. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross and substitute teacher Lynette Bryant are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Hutchinson, a former congressman, questioned Coleman’s vow to resist repeated deployments of the National Guard to conflicts in which Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration of war. During a portion of the debate where candidates could pose questions to one another, Hutchinson noted that no such formal declaration was issued for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“This is an example, Curtis, that you’ve used rhetoric that inflamed the public that accomplishes nothing,” Hutchinson said.

Coleman said he believed repeated deployments were infringing on the state’s authority to rely on the guard.

“Men and women who signed up to the National Guard did not sign up to be a full-time active military service,” Coleman said. “They signed up to be in the Arkansas National Guard.”

Coleman, meanwhile, targeted Hutchinson for endorsing Holder’s endorsement as attorney general in 2008. Hutchinson had backed Holder in a letter to the U.S. Senate judiciary committee, and Coleman called it “a glowing endorsement of someone whose ideology doesn’t reflect the value of Arkansans.”

Hutchinson said he regrets that endorsement, saying he based it on Holder’s background as a prosecutor. Hutchinson said he believes Holder should resign.

“It was a huge political mistake, but more importantly the job that Eric Holder has done has been totally unacceptable,” Hutchinson said. “I have acknowledged that that was a mistake.”

Hutchinson has a fundraising and organizational lead over Coleman and has mainly focused his attention on Ross, who also faces an underfunded and lesser-known rival in the Democratic primary. Ross, likewise, has focused primarily on Hutchinson. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is barred by term limits from seeking re-election this year.

Hutchinson took aim at Coleman’s background as the founder of Safe Foods Corp., saying Coleman’s opposition to state incentives for the Big River Steel plant proposal in east Arkansas conflicted with Coleman accepting state assistance for his food safety company. Hutchinson supported the incentive package for the steel plant.

“Safe Foods utilized state funding and state support for that industry, and yet he’s opposed it for the Big River Steel project. One, I think this is harmful to growth in the state of Arkansas and eastern Arkansas, particularly, which needs these jobs so much,” Hutchinson said. “It seems also inconsistent with his integrated approach of industry and the support of the state that he’s taken the benefit of.”

Coleman said he didn’t believe the positions were inconsistent, saying he’s calling for support for small businesses in the state.

“I actually think it’s a mistake for Arkansas to continue to try to pursue super-projects that are subject to a collapse of one small segment of the economy,” Coleman said. “What I proposed about Big River Steel was entirely consistent with my plan for Arkansas.”

Coleman also criticized Hutchinson’s background in Washington, D.C., where he also served as a Homeland Security official in former President George W. Bush’s administration.

“The majority of my opponent’s credentials have been Washington, D.C., credentials,” Coleman said. “I think you’re looking for Arkansas credentials.”

Hutchinson took a swipe at Coleman’s failed bid for the GOP’s nomination for a U.S. Senate seat four years ago.

“When it comes to Washington, the difference between me and Curtis is I got elected to represent the people of this state,” Hutchinson said. “He tried to go to Washington, but he was not successful in that effort.”

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)
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