Jonesboro Prosecuting Attorney and First Congressional District Democratic candidate Scott Ellington didn’t light up the first quarter fundraising circuit, raising only $19,955 in the month of March when he was a formal candidate.
His Democratic challenger Clark Hall of Marvell raised $98,828 during the quarter, while the third Democrat in the field, Gary Latanich of Jonesboro, raised $18,894.
Hall and Ellington have been considered the front-runners in the race for the Democratic nomination to take on first-term incumbent Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.
Crawford raised $252,059 during the quarter, and without a GOP primary opponent, is sitting with $459,659 cash-on-hand as of March 31, 2012.
Arkansas’ First District is expected to be a battleground this fall as the Congressional seat picked up several southern Democratic counties and Crawford is perceived as vulnerable in his first effort for re-election in a district that hadn’t voted Republican since Reconstruction until 2010.
On Monday (April 16), Ellington spoke with Talk Business to discuss his late start in the race, his campaign fundraising and the West Memphis 3 dimension to his candidacy.
Ellington acknowledges that his final-day entry into the Democratic primary combined with his work schedule slowed his campaign’s launch.
“The late decision got us off to a little bit slower start,” Ellington said. “I had other commitments that kept fundraising down.”
Claiming he doesn’t have the “slick politician” routine down, Ellington said he is juggling his full-time prosecutor’s job with campaigning for Congress.
His “grassroots campaign” is getting a lot of “positive response,” and in typical underdog, optimistic fashion, Ellington claims that money won’t matter most on Election Day.
“It’s who has the most votes at the end of the day on May 22nd is what counts,” he says.
Still, Ellington recognizes he’ll have to step up the pace. Going forward, he is scheduling more time to make fundraising calls and he’s counting on a recent AFL-CIO endorsement to provide “some financial boost.”
Fundraising events are being scheduled, including one in Little Rock’s Hillcrest neighborhood at a U.S. Pizza on Wednesday, April 18, which is likely to bring out long-time Democrats from a left-of-center persuasion, including some who have been visible and vocal in the high-profile West Memphis 3 case.
Ellington, in the middle of his first four-year term as Prosecuting Attorney, was vaulted into the international public eye last August for his role in the West Memphis 3 case.
Three convicted murderers — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. — had been in prison for 18 years before Ellington and the WM3 attorneys worked out an Alford plea, a deal that allowed them to plead guilty but maintain their innocence. It also reduced their sentences to time served and the WM3 were released from prison after nearly two decades.
Political observers have wondered how the WM3 angle would factor into the Congressional race. Polling taken a month after the WM3 were freed showed a split electorate with 47% saying it was a good decision and 53% saying it was a bad one.
Surprisingly, there was more awareness of the case in the Second Congressional District, not the First, where the murders took place.
Ellington says he’s not actively seeking funds from any of the parties involved in the high-profile murder case, but it wouldn’t stop him from accepting a check if any came his way.
“If they want to send money this way, we’ll take it. Either side. Because right now, the case is closed,” Ellington said. “If somebody on either side wants to throw some money at me, it’s not going to hurt my feelings.”
Ellington said that he remains open to the presentation of “credible evidence” for review, but he contends he wouldn’t be persuaded by a political contribution in that instance.
He’s had contact with two visible members in the WM3 case, restaurateur Capi Peck and defense attorney Blake Hendrix. By happenstance, Ellington ran into Peck — a supporter for the WM3 release — at a recent tourism conference in West Memphis. He’s contacted Hendrix — attorney for Jason Baldwin — to invite him to the Hillcrest fundraiser.
Recalling last year’s Clinton School WM3 forum where Hendrix said he would vote for Ellington if he lived in his district, the Congressional candidate encouraged him to round up some attorney support for the upcoming event. Ellington suggests that others with an interest in the WM3 case could also show up on Wednesday.
“We sent out probably 500 invitations,” said Ellington. “If those invitations were addressed to players or people who happened to be involved in the West Memphis 3 cheerleading squad, one way or the other, then I didn’t address any envelopes, so I don’t know who was on the list. I’m assuming that they’re political folks anyway if they made the list.”