- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross criticized Republican rival Asa Hutchinson Wednesday for his role in prosecuting the impeachment case against former President Bill Clinton, saying it showed how partisan the former congressman is.

In an early signal of how much impeachment could factor in the governor’s race in Clinton’s home state, Ross, also an ex-congressman, cited the topic when talking about the differences between his service in Washington and Hutchinson‘s.

Hutchinson was one of the House managers who argued before senators - a group that included his brother, former Sen. Tim Hutchinson - for Clinton’s removal over lies he told about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate voted to acquit the 42nd president of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in 1999.

“There’s 435 members of Congress and less than a handful actually conducted the trial in the U.S. Senate,” Ross told The Associated Press. “For an Arkansan to say ‘Send me to remove Arkansas’ only president from office’ shows how partisan he is.”

Ross also dinged Hutchinson’s legal expertise, quipping: “He may be the only lawyer in America who has conducted a trial with his brother on the jury and lost.”

Hutchinson dismissed Ross‘ comments as “snarky,” saying he believed voters were more interested in the candidates’ future plans than the impeachment trial.

“That’s such ancient history. And if Mike Ross wants to run his campaign on mean-spirited comments that reflect the past, then that’s his business,” Hutchinson told the AP. “Arkansans are much more interested in the devastating impacts of his recent votes in Congress, including the trillion dollars in spending and including his votes for President (Barack) Obama’s health care package coming out of the Commerce Committee.”

Hutchinson and Republicans have regularly targeted Ross for voting for a version of the health care overhaul in committee in 2009. Ross, however, voted against the measure that Obama signed into law. Ross also later joined with Republicans to vote for repealing the federal health care overhaul.

Ross‘ comments on impeachment are a shift from the 2006 governor’s race, which Hutchinson lost to now-Gov. Mike Beebe. Beebe, a Democrat, didn’t raise Hutchinson’s role in impeachment as an issue, though other members of his party regularly brought it up as they criticized the former congressman.

Ross, who got his start in politics by driving Clinton during the 1982 gubernatorial campaign, said it will be up to voters to decide whether impeachment is an issue, but added that he believes it reflects poorly on Hutchinson.

Clinton, who served as Arkansas governor for nearly 12 years, still looms large in Arkansas politics. The former president’s library is in downtown Little Rock and he regularly campaigns on behalf of the state’s top Democrats. He helped kick off Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election bid last year, and plans to headline fundraisers for two Democrats running for Congress in April. He also has sent out a fundraising appeal for Ross‘ campaign.

With Beebe unable to seek re-election because of term limits, the Arkansas governor’s race is one of the most closely watched in the country. Ross and Hutchinson both face lesser-known, underfunded rivals in the May 20 primary, and have instead focused primarily on each other.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo .

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