Tuesday’s announcement of a new commercial development at the Village at Hendrix drew a Conway crowd that included two potential Democratic prospects for Congress.
Conway Mayor Tab Townsell delivered remarks at the Hendrix Village event, discussing the new urbanism that is at the center of the development’s planning and architecture. It has also been a centerpiece of his mayoral agenda through the rebirth of downtown Conway, which has seen remarkable growth during the last decade-and-a-half that Townsell has been mayor.
Townsell, 51, is a Conway High School and University of Central Arkansas graduate, who also holds a MBA from Texas Christian University. Prior to public service, he was active in his family’s construction and concrete businesses.
Serving his fourth term as mayor, Townsell has said he won’t seek another term, but he is eyeing another office where he could have a free shot: Second District Congress.
Currently that seat is held by incumbent Republican Cong. Tim Griffin, who was first elected in 2010.
Townsell, who presumably could pull hometown votes that traditionally lean Republican, could cut into the GOP vote totals in Faulkner County. Combined with high Democratic turnout in Pulaski County, many political observers believe Townsell would be competitive.
When asked about a Congressional run, Townsell said:
“I have given some thought to that .. . Some people have stepped forward from Pulaski County and Conway and asked me to consider a race for Second District Congress. I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been talking to various people. I haven’t made any decisions yet, but that is in the realm of possibility for me if not in this election cycle, in another election cycle. So yes, I have considered it.”
Townsell said he would run as a Democrat if he pursues the office.
The numbers could also make former Democratic State Rep. Linda Tyler – who also hails from Conway – a viable challenger to Griffin.
Tyler lost a 2012 race for State Senate to incumbent Republican Jason Rapert. The heated campaign left battle scars between the candidates and local Democrats and Republicans that still remain fresh.
Tyler, 64, is a retired Acxiom Corp. executive who grew up with four siblings in tiny Lead Hill, Ark., a north Arkansas community in Boone County near Harrison and the Missouri state line. In the Arkansas legislature, she chaired the controversial Public Health Committee, which handled the 2011 session’s contentious abortion-related legislation.
Like Townsell, she has the potential to perform better than most Democrats in Faulkner County. Combined with Democratic-rich Pulaski County, Tyler could be a threat to Griffin, but she may have designs on another seat.
When asked about her political future, Tyler said:
“I am seriously considering a run in 2014. I considered it an honor to serve. I am prayerfully and carefully weighing my options. Those options include the State Senate, Congress, and possibly a constitutional state office. I want to do what is best for the district, the state and my family.”
THE THEORY & A HOLDING PATTERN
Talk Business’ Michael Cook advanced the theory last week that a Faulkner County candidate could alter the traditional formula needed for Democrats to win the Second District in the general election. In the past, Democrats have lost most of the bigger suburban counties of the district, but run up the score in Pulaski County. Griffin bucked that trend by being more competitive in Pulaski County and garnering large victories in the remaining counties in the district.
With demographic shifts and growing population bases in Saline and Faulkner counties in particular, some now believe that a solid Pulaski County win by a Democrat might not be enough to overcome a growing Republican voting bloc in the district.
Faulkner County candidates like Townsell or Tyler could be competitive enough to offset the numbers. They could also benefit from Griffin’s perceived vulnerability due to the Mayflower oil spill.
Griffin has been a vocal advocate for the national Keystone pipeline project, but that position has no doubt lost political popularity in south Faulkner County where the Pegasus pipeline ruptured in late March. Democrats have already indicated they will make it a focal point of criticism on the incumbent Republican, who to his credit, has been very public in his advocacy for Mayflower constituents.
A monkey wrench in the Faulkner County theory involves the Democratic primary, however. Pulaski County still dictates the primary results in the Second Congressional District.
Already, announced Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Dianne Curry has said she’s mulling a switch to the Congressional race. With a base in urban Little Rock and holding a seat on the Little Rock School Board, she could spell trouble for an “outside” Pulaski County candidate such as Townsell or Tyler.
In 2010, the last year there was a Democratic primary contest for Congress, there were more than 43,000 votes cast in Pulaski County, while just 7,400 were cast in Faulkner County.
That year a Pulaski County candidate, Sen. Joyce Elliott, led the five-person field into the run-off and was the eventual Democratic nominee over the only Faulkner County candidate, Rep. Robbie Wills.
A bigger threat to a Faulkner County candidate – and Cong. Griffin – could come in the form of former Democratic Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Although he has announced for Governor, Halter is rumored to be considering a shift to the Second Congressional District race.
He’d bring personal wealth and a national fundraising network to a Congressional campaign, and he’d likely perform well in Pulaski County; however, he’s offered no public comments on the subject.
Halter’s entry would no doubt throw another curve in an already topsy-turvy election cycle. Of course, he could also sit out the 2014 cycle altogether. For now, his silence is keeping a lot of candidates quiet on what their final decisions may be.