LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - By seeking the lieutenant governor’s office, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin represents a formidable weapon for fellow Republicans in their quest to take over the state’s top elected spots in November. But the two-term congressman also represents an easy target for Democrats as they try to prevent that sweep.
With his announcement that he’ll seek the state’s No. 2 office, Griffin upended a race that had been lifeless and suspense-free compared to the U.S. Senate, governor and congressional matchups already highlighting the November ballot.
Griffin’s announcement came just a few months after saying he’d retire from Congress to spend more time with his wife and two kids. Seeking the lieutenant governor’s office gives him a chance to do that, but remain a key player in state politics.
“I have decided to seek the office of lieutenant governor, which will allow me to continue serving Arkansans as a problem solver and watch my 3 year old and 6 year old grow up at our home in Arkansas,” Griffin said in a prepared statement last week.
A two-term congressman who has been viewed as a rising star for the Republican Party, Griffin offers the GOP a big-name candidate with proven fundraising ability. His entry also elevates and potentially nationalizes the race for an office seen as so ceremonial that lawmakers are moving to keep it vacant for the rest of the year.
Assuming Griffin wins the nomination, he also offers Republicans a higher-profile counterargument to the tag-team candidacy of former Congressman Mike Ross and former Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter for the state’s top two offices.
Like Burkhalter, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, Griffin is vowing to use his office to push for policies that he says will promote job growth in the state. Griffin says he can use his congressional experience and connections to help the state with those policies.
Griffin’s candidacy also seems aimed at restoring the faith that was lost in an office over the ethics violations that led to fellow Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s resignation. Griffin, one of the Republicans who called on Darr to resign, kicked off his campaign vowing to cut the office’s staff and to not accept rides from the Arkansas State Police.
Darr faced criticism before his resignation over his use of state troopers for rides from his Springdale home to other parts of the state.
Griffin, however, also makes an attractive foil for Democrats who seem eager to reprise the lines of attack they had planned against the congressman before he announced his retirement last year. Indicating they viewed him as the likely nominee for the state’s No. 2 office, the state Democratic Party derided Griffin as part of a “dysfunctional” Washington that led to last year’s federal government shutdown.
“Arkansans want more jobs, not more Washington-style politics,” State Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said hours after Griffin joined the race.
Despite that statement, it’s hard for either party to stake the claim as an outsider. Ross, the only Democrat running for governor, represented south Arkansas in Congress for 12 years. Asa Hutchinson, who enjoys a fundraising and organizational advantage in his quest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, served more than four years in Congress and another two years in the Bush administration.
With two former congressmen vying for the state’s top office and a sitting one hoping for the second-in-command, Washington-style politics will be hard for either party to escape this fall.
Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo