- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Gov. Asa Hutchinson hailed Arkansas as a job creator that’s leading the nation in computer science education, and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge boasted she has a more authentic Arkansas accent than Hillary Clinton. Sen. Tom Cotton shared the story of his “Arkansas farm boy” dad and his Army service, while Bill Clinton ticked off a list of accomplishments by his wife during her years in The Natural State.

Over the past two weeks, Arkansas has played an outsized role at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. It’s an unusual position for a solidly Republican state that virtually no one views as competitive in the presidential race.

The state’s prominence shows the symbolic role Arkansas is going to play in a White House race where it’s otherwise a bit player. For Democrats, the state represents a key piece of nominee Hillary Clinton’s political upbringing and her role as an advocate on key issues. For Republicans, the state is a chance to highlight the party’s ability to flip Clinton’s adopted home turf into GOP territory.

Hutchinson didn’t use his speech to revisit his role in prosecuting the impeachment case against the former president. Instead, the former congressman and federal Homeland Security official touted Arkansas’ successes and portrayed Hillary Clinton as someone with poor judgment on multiple fronts.

“Ladies and gentleman, I hail from the great state of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “We know from personal experience that we don’t need Hillary Clinton in the White House.”

It was a similar tack for Rutledge, who criticized the Democratic nominee on multiple fronts - including her accent.

“Sometimes Hillary Clinton speaks with a New York accent, sometimes an Arkansas accent. But, y’all, this is what a real Arkansas woman sounds like,” Rutledge said. “Hillary may not know where she’s from, but Arkansans know exactly who she is.”

Cotton, who’s been floated as a potential 2020 White House hopeful, reached back to the story of his father’s Army service as well as his own as he focused his criticism on Clinton and Democrats over what he cast as their failings on national security.

“My father and his father were willing to fight so that their children and grandchildren might live in peace,” Cotton said. “That wasn’t to be. But my generation is willing to fight so that our children might live in peace.”

It wasn’t hard to see Arkansas’ role last week as Democrats gathered in Philadelphia for their convention either. That included during Bill Clinton’s speech praising his wife and detailing her advocacy, particularly on health care and education.

“You could drop her into any trouble spot, pick one, come back in a month and somehow, some way she will have made it better,” Clinton said. “That is just who she is.”

The events were bittersweet for both parties. Trump wasn’t the first or even second choice for many of Arkansas’ top Republicans, who are backing the billionaire while also venting frustration about some of his controversial remarks. And the Democrats’ prominence last week came as they try to rebuild after a series of defeats that handed Republicans control of Arkansas’ statewide and federal offices, along with both chambers of the Legislature.

For now, Republicans and Democrats must be content to relish the attention that they’re unlikely to see when election night comes.


Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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