HOT SPRINGS – Republican congressional candidate Beth Anne Rankin drew a hearty endorsement Wednesday from former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who touted her experience in his administration and running a business as qualification for representing southern Arkansas.
Rankin was an adviser to Huckabee and handled contact between the governor’s office and the state’s House and Senate offices in Washington. The ex-governor said she gained experience dealing with a number of federal issues that affect Arkansas.
"Her background and understanding of those issues give her a unique ability to serve the 4th District," Huckabee said.
Rankin worked for Huckabee in seven of his 10 years in office.
Huckabee and Rankin addressed about 150 people who paid $125 for lunch. About 50 attendees paid double that amount to meet with Huckabee at a private reception beforehand. A campaign spokesman said he didn’t know how much money came in.
Huckabee, mixing his customary one-liners with serious points, told the crowd that Rankin needs as much money as possible, as Democrats hope to keep the seat in their hands.
Incumbent Rep. Mike Ross isn’t seeking re-election. State Sen. Gene Jeffress of Louann and D.C. Morrison are running as Democrats.
"Enormous amounts of funds are coming to get Beth Anne defeated," Huckabee said. "She needs your prayers, but if that’s all you do make it because it’s all you can do."
Arkansas’ one-week political filing season opens Feb. 23.
One of Rankin’s GOP opponents, Tom Cotton, drew an endorsement Wednesday from the Club for Growth, a conservative group known for its anti-tax policy statements. Huckabee and the organization clashed when the former governor ran for president four years ago.
Huckabee said he was puzzled by the group’s endorsement.
"I can’t figure that out. You know, they typically are an organization I think that has very little local connection. They generally are Washington insiders and big money people who are about protecting their world, not the world that a lot of these folks in the 4th District live in," Huckabee said. "It will probably do Beth Anne more good than harm."
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said the group backed Cotton because he supports lower taxes and smaller government – themes Rankin also touched on during her talk.
Cotton, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Army Ranger, lives in Dardanelle.
Rankin ran against Ross two years ago, with Ross winning re-election with 58 percent of the vote.
"The reason it’s an open seat is because Beth Anne scared the daylights out of the guy who’s in there," Huckabee said, though the margin over Rankin was 18 percentage points.
Also seeking the GOP nomination are Marcus Richmond of Waldron and John Cowart of Texarkana.
Speaking after the event, Huckabee said he believes the Republican Party will have a nominee for president before the convention in Tampa, Fla., but he said he’s not sure who that will be.
"I think this race is still wide open," Huckabee said.
He said former Sen. Rick Santorum’s recent surge reflects his strength as a candidate but said the lead has changed so many times that it could well happen again.
"It shows that Republican voters still have not made up their minds yet," Huckabee said. "It could go anywhere."
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