- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - In the race for Arkansas governor, Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson have regularly traded attacks accusing each other of being more beholden to Washington than the state’s voters.

It’s a major theme as the two candidates seek to strike an anti-Washington tone in an increasingly Republican state.

Never mind that both men qualify for the insider title. Ross served 12 years in Congress and was a public face of the Blue Dog Coalition of Democrats during his time there. Hutchinson, too, is an ex-congressman who worked as a Homeland Security official and a Washington lobbyist.

The race has turned into a battle over which candidate has more baggage from his ties to the nation’s capital.

Mike Ross. His Washington record doesn’t sound very good. Because it isn’t,” the Republican Governors Association says in a TV, one of several that have blanketed the state.

A state Democratic website targeting Hutchinson, meanwhile, asks visitors to sign up to “TELL ASA: Arkansas can’t afford a big-spending bureaucrat & D.C. lobbyist as our next governor.”

Running against Washington isn’t new in Arkansas, where President Barack Obama remains deeply unpopular. Republicans have capitalized on that dislike, taking control of the state’s Legislature and all four of its U.S. House seats two years ago. The governor’s office is one of the top remaining prizes for the GOP, which believes it can topple Democratic U.S. Mark Pryor in November as well.

Ross and Hutchinson both face lesser-known, underfunded rivals in their respective primaries on May 20 and are instead focusing on each other in a likely preview of the fall campaign.

The two have avoided specifically citing their Washington years in their opening campaign ads. Ross‘ first ad featured Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who has remained popular in Arkansas despite Republican gains and his second spot introduces Ross as a “fifth generation Arkansan and the son of public school educators.” Hutchinson’s first TV ad featured his wife, Susan, praising her husband as someone with “Arkansas values and Arkansas common sense.”

Both men have long roots in the state, and are well-known to Arkansas voters. Ross got his start in politics driving Bill Clinton around the state during the 1982 gubernatorial campaign, served on the Nevada County Quorum Court and is a former state senator. Hutchinson is a former federal prosecutor in Arkansas’ western district, served as the state Republican Party’s chairman in the early 1990s and had run for statewide office three times before his current bid.

When the two talk about Washington, it’s usually referring it to a place they don’t want Arkansas to become.

“If you think you’re fed up with Washington, I’m so fed up I quit my job,” Ross says, a line he’s repeated at campaign appearances.

Hutchinson says he thinks voters see Washington “as broken and they’re very frustrated with it.”

Hutchinson, who served four years representing northwest Arkansas in Congress and another two years in the Bush administration, paints his time in Washington as one of tax cuts and balanced budgets. And he tries to tag Ross‘ time in Washington with national Democratic figures.

“First of all, I was on the Republican team. Mr. Ross was on the Nancy Pelosi-President Obama team. It’s totally different leadership that we have been identified with,” Hutchinson said.

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