- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

SPRINGDALE, Ark. — Some of Bill Clinton's friends think they'll get a mocking laugh today in the primaries to choose Republican and Democratic candidates for Congress to replace Asa Hutchinson.

It's an election rich with irony, even for Arkansas, an original source of Southern Gothic.

Asa Hutchinson, the new director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, was an eloquent House prosecutor of the impeachment indictment of Bill Clinton and is one of the most popular officeholders in Arkansas, and that helped make state Sen. Jim Hendren of Springdale the odds-on early favorite. Mr. Hendren is the nephew of Asa and his brother, Tim, the senior U.S. senator from Arkansas. But then Mr. Hendren, a pillar of the church, a devout family man (four children) and champion of family values in the state legislature, conceded that the stories floating around Arkansas were true, that he had been involved in an affair with a woman not his wife. A married woman at that.

This was fun stuff for Democrats who, barely hiding smirks, grins and lowered eyes had blindly defended Bill Clinton through all the years of accusations of sexual harassment, bank robbery, rape and perjury and subsequent indictment, acquittal and plea bargain. The Democrats insisted they would never, ever try to connect Mr. Hendren and his mea culpa to his Uncle Tim, who last year divorced his wife and married an aide in his Washington office, but (harummmph) they're not as sure as they used to be that personal morality has nothing to do with qualifications for high office. Wink, wink.

The irony gets richer. Only last week Uncle Tim's ex-wife, Donna, and Janet Huckabee, the wife of the Republican governor, endorsed John Boozman, an eye doctor whose brother, Fay Boozman, was the Republican nominee and the protege of Uncle Tim for the U.S. Senate three years ago. The ladies didn't say anything about Jim Hendren's domestic troubles. They didn't have to.

Messrs. Hendren and Boozman are likely to meet in a runoff next month, since no one will get a majority tonight. But not necessarily. Another state senator, with the improbable but deliciously provocative name of Gunner DeLay (a distant cousin of Tom DeLay), is making considerable noise as the man who would do something about the waves of immigration, mostly from Mexico, that have transformed small Ozark towns that only yesterday were placid redoubts of a stolid Anglo-Saxon culture largely unchanged in 200 years. Only a generation ago scholars from Oxford and Cambridge trudged through these ancient hills, untouched by the movies, television and even radio, with ungainly wire recorders to capture accents and dialects that Chaucer would have found congenial. But in the last decade, for a typical example, the population of Rogers (38,000) was transformed from 2 percent to 20 percent Hispanic. This has unsettled many old-timers. Northwest Arkansas has gone from being the poorest part of the state to the most prosperous, the home of the world's largest retailer (Wal-Mart), one of the largest food processors (Tyson's) and two of the largest truck lines (J.B. Hunt and Arkansas Best) in the four decades that Republicans have held the congressional seat.

The election won't change any of that. The Democrats don't really expect their nominee to regain the seat. But it's a primary closely watched from Washington as well as from Little Rock for what it will say about next year's race between Tim Hutchinson and the expected Democratic challenger, Atty. Gen. Mark Pryor, the son of David Pryor, who was succeeded in the U.S. Senate by Mr. Hutchinson. David Pryor, who is now a professor at Harvard, more or less anointed his son as the Democrat to rout the Republican infidels. Memories of the aftermath of Appomattox die hard here, even among Democrats who are only dimly aware of why.

The events of Sept. 11, to the chagrin of Democrats, considerably enhanced Tim Hutchinson's prospects. Even before Sept. 11, the race was shaping up as one between a man of experience and a well-meaning boy. "In a time of military crisis," columnist John Brummett remarked yesterday in the Springdale News, "Hutchinson runs as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee while Mark Pryor, the presumptive Democratic nominee, runs as a guy filing lawsuits against price-gouging gas stations. Hutchinson could say, 'Good for you, Mark, and I wish you would continue to pursue those outrages while I help my friend George W. retool the military and lead good against evil.'"

If the nephew wins, or runs well for Asa's seat today, scandal as an issue is put to rest. If not for good, until after next year.

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