Eldridge Supply Company in Augusta provided the backdrop Saturday as former U.S. Prosecuting Attorney Conner Eldridge announced a bid for the U.S. Senate.
In front of about 75 people, Eldridge, 38, said he was running as a Democrat against incumbent U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. in the 2016 general election. In his remarks, Eldridge criticized both parties in their response to the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare and other issues like the federal debt.
Eldridge said the debt, at $18 trillion, "has more than tripled since my opponent took office.”
The remarks drew a strong response from Boozman campaign manager Chris Caldwell.
"It is rich that an Obama appointee wants to lay blame somewhere else for the President's almost doubling of the debt in six years," Caldwell said. "Senator Boozman has continually worked to reduce the debt that Obama has wracked up. He supports the Balanced Budget Amendment, authored an appropriations bill that reigns in spending at rogue agencies like the IRS and voted in favor of the Republican Senate-passed budget that balances in ten years without raising taxes.”
On issues like healthcare and Obamacare, Eldridge said the political debate seeks to pigeonhole lawmakers in one camp or the other. Eldridge said he believes Republicans are wrong "for wanting to get rid of it without offering a solution" and Democrats are wrong "to say that the law is perfect and should not be fixed.
Eldridge said he supports expanding increasing tax credits for small businesses in order to get health insurance but shied away from specifics. He also supports the Private Option in Arkansas, saying it has improved access for people in need like cancer patients.
Eldridge was asked by reporters after the announcement about Obamacare. He said he was opposed to repealing the law and would not answer how he would have voted if he had been in the Senate at the time.
"I am focused on today," Eldridge said.
Caldwell said Boozman's views on the issue are clear.
"Absolutely, Senator Boozman has consistently voted to repeal Obamacare. He will always put the needs of Arkansans before the wishes of President Obama," Caldwell said.
Eldridge also criticized Boozman for being in public office since 2001, saying Boozman was beholden to party leaders and "big money" politics. Caldwell responded that Boozman is in tune with the public.
"Senator Boozman is only beholden to the people of Arkansas who he relentlessly fights for everyday, as opposed to someone who has spent the last five years serving President Obama in Arkansas.”
Eldridge said he would offer leadership, initiative and action if voters send him to Washington, D.C. next fall. Eldridge grew up in Augusta and Lonoke, saying the values he learned from his family would be a focus of his campaign.
"Family means so much to me," Eldridge said, noting he was asking for votes and help next year. "Are you with me?”
The filing period goes from noon Nov. 2 until noon Nov. 9.
The primary is March 1, while the general election is Nov. 8, 2016.
Before becoming U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, Eldridge worked with businesses across southwestern, central, and other parts of Arkansas while serving in several roles with Summit Bank and Summit Bancorp Inc. in Arkadelphia. Eldridge held the positions of vice president and assistant general counsel, president of the Arkadelphia region, and CEO during his time at Summit Bank.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Davidson College and gained his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas. Following law school, he served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele of the Eastern District of Arkansas from 2003-2004.
Eldridge previously worked for U.S. Rep. Marion Berry and U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln during 1998 and from 1999-2000.
Eldridge and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, moved from Arkadelphia to Fort Smith and, later, to Fayetteville after he became U.S. Attorney. They have three young boys: Will, 8; Henry, 4; and Tull, 3.