- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. Bill Clinton couldn't do it and more than a dozen other Democrats over the years have failed miserably, but Democrats here feel they finally have a horse to win the race.
They feel that Mike Hathorn, 28, a handsome young lawyer and two-term state representative, can pull an upset and win the 3rd District congressional seat here.
Democrats haven't had a prayer in this the state's most conservative district since a hardware store owner named John Paul Hammerschmidt in 1966 broke what had been a Democratic dynasty. Mr. Clinton, in his first political race in 1974, was defeated by Mr. Hammerschmidt.
Mr. Hammerschmidt, now chairman of the Republican Party in Arkansas, retired from Congress in 1992 after 26 years. Brothers Tim and Asa Hutchinson kept the Republican dominance alive in the years afterward, with Tim serving two terms before winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1996 and Asa succeeding him as the area's congressman.
The special election Nov. 20 is to replace Asa Hutchinson, who now heads the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The district covers 16 counties in northwestern Arkansas, some of Arkansas' fastest growing counties and by far the most dominated by Republicans. Its major cities are Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Springdale and Russellville.
Mr. Hathorn (pronounced "HAY-thorn") is the decided underdog in this race, which already has undergone two close primaries and two runoffs. But he is definitely a comer, say the pundits. And the comparisons to a young Bill Clinton cannot be ignored.
"He's got that same intensity, the ability to 'connect' with all age groups and a terribly impressive mind," said Bill Hendrix, a 70-year-old retired farmer who on Thursday night attended a candidates' forum in Russellville at which Mr. Hathorn and Republican candidate John Boozman spoke to a large crowd of AARP members.
Russell Winstead, who had driven with Mr. Hendrix to the forum, disagreed. "All this talk about Clinton him being a Clinton-type politician that's wishful thinking on Democrats' part."
An elderly lady, smiling as she listened, chimed in: "Oh, I think he's soooo handsome, and such a charmer. Don't tell my husband I said that."
With a few noticeable exceptions, almost all the state's political writers and advisers predict that Mr. Boozman, 50, has the race to lose. He is ahead, they claim, because he clearly represents conservative values, has built a fledgling optometry clinic into one of the state's best-known, and has major state Republicans in his corner, including the popular Gov. Mike Huckabee.
They claim he also benefits by favorable name identification. His brother, Faye, carried much of this district when he unsuccessfully opposed Blanche Lincoln for the U.S. Senate in November 1998.
No major polls have been taken, the candidates say.
At Thursday's forum, which dealt almost exclusively with seniors' issues, each candidate stressed experience as his main attribute: Mr. Boozman for developing and operating a 90-employee eye clinic, and Mr. Hathorn for his work in the state legislature, where he chaired the Judiciary Committee.
"He [Mr. Hathorn] can win," said Hoyt Purvis, a University of Arkansas author-professor, "but it's going to take everything possible going his way."
Jay Barth, political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, argues that any Democrat is "dramatically disadvantaged" in this district. But, he said, Republicans "need to be concerned that while their numbers of voters went down in their runoff, the number of people voting for the Democrats went up."
"While I have no dog in this hunt," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Mike Masterson wrote last week, "my honest opinion is that Hathorn could pull it off.
"Like Hammerschmidt nearly 40 years ago, Hathorn represents youth and vitality and an ability to rapidly adapt to the significant changes coming so rapidly from every direction," said Mr. Masterson.
"Who is this Mike Hathorn anyway and why's he getting so much press?" began an editorial in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Friday. While it characterized Mr. Hathorn's chances as somewhat flimsy, it noted that "even if Mike Hathorn can't pull off an upset later this month, he can still take comfort from the later success of Bill Clinton. Look what happened to that guy after he lost the Third District. If the next congressman isn't named Hathorn, other opportunities always await an up-and-comer."


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