Arkansas Republicans are in a bit of a tizzy over the potential Congressional candidacy of Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson. McPherson is strongly considering running against incumbent Rick Crawford in the First Congressional District.

Why are Arkansas Republicans flummoxed? Probably because there’s a realistic shot McPherson can win.

McPherson fits the candidate model Democrats are recruiting this year – competent managers of government or business who work in a bipartisan manner to get the job done.

Here are two Republic Party talking points I’ve heard recently about McPherson:

Republican talking point #1: Jackie McPherson isn’t a strong Congressional candidate because he lost a State Representative race 14 years ago.

This talking point completely overlooks the fact McPherson was subsequently elected four times as mayor, serving a total of eight years in office so far. Moreover, I seem to recall the likely Republic nominee for Governor, Asa Hutchinson, has lost a whopping three races for statewide office. Does that make Asa a bottom-of-the-barrel candidate?

Who else in Arkansas politics lost a race, only to win at their next attempt? Mike Huckabee, Bill Clinton and David Pryor come to mind.

Republican talking point #2: Completely misconstrue McPherson’s mayoral record.

My favorite example is their laughable attempt to blame McPherson for a screw-up by the Arkansas Department of Health, which was so bad a state government agency director had to apologize to McPherson for their “monumental miscommunication.”

Here’s the article cited in this matter, but apparently never bothered to be read since it shows ADH was at fault.

Of course, let’s not forget Congressman Rick Crawford is a former rodeo clown who previously filed for bankruptcy. There’s a record to be proud of.

To be fair, we don’t know for certain if McPherson ultimately runs or what kind of candidate he will make. He is virtually unknown outside his home county and he’s never raised Congressional campaign level cash.

But his effectiveness as Heber Springs’ mayor is beyond question and referring to him as a “scraping the bottom of the barrel” recruit is a bit silly. McPherson has been an effective mayor, working on economic development issues, and is credited for building new community and senior centers for the town.

I spoke with Democratic sources this week who shared recent poll results done in the First District that leads them to believe Crawford is beatable. Unfortunately, I can’t share all the data since it would reveal the poll’s source and it’s not fair to only release partial numbers since it can’t be thoroughly scrutinized. Therefore, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs where I discuss the poll in general terms if you question this non-public poll’s validity.

I can say the results are from a pollster I trust, with numbers showing Crawford’s favorable rating and name recognition at surprisingly low levels. In the head-to-head question, Crawford is below the magic 50% number incumbents would like to see in their polling at this stage in an election year.

There are votes Crawford has made, and not made, that are very dangerous for his candidacy if an opponent has the funds to highlight them. Finally, polling shows McPherson currently has about the same name recognition you or I have in the First Congressional District. But there is a realistic path to defeat Crawford.

McPherson still has a long way to go before he becomes a Congressman. Obviously, he must actually commit first. After that, he must raise a ton of money and have a clear message of why voters should fire Rick Crawford and hire him instead.

But based on his record, Jackie McPherson could make for a strong First Congressional District candidate.

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Michael Cook
Michael Cook is the moderator for his opinion blog, Cook's Outlook. He can be reached by e-mail at Michael@CooksOutlook.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mcookAR or on Facebook: facebook.com/CooksOutlook.