AR-02: At Last, Joyce Calls Out Timmy! (And Even God Approves Of The Shift In Strategy)

15 Oct

Without a doubt, in Democrat circles in central Arkansas and beyond, much has been said about the AR-02 congressional campaign between beloved liberal state lawmaker Joyce Elliott and disgraced former U.S. attorney and Karl Rove protege Timmy! Griffin. From its onset, the race was sure to be interesting, not only because the winner would be replacing the last true progressive voice this state has in Washington — retiring Rep. Vic Snyder — but also because, regardless of outcome, the victor was sure to make history.

For Elliott, who was catapulted to a primary runoff victory thanks largely to Speaker Robbie Wills’ unintentional unifying of Dems eager to rebuke the Rethuglican attack methods that Wills’ campaign employed in the race’s final days, a win on November 2 would make her the first African-American ever elected to Arkansas’s congressional delegation.  Griffin, for his part, would become the first AR-02 Republican elected in 32 years, since Ed Bethune won in 1978.  (No, we don’t count the traitor Tommy Robinson’s switch-a-roo in the 1980s.  So there.)

Indeed, the lack of an incumbent, the historical context of the race, and the test of whether the state’s most diverse and progressive region will be able to withstand the Red-State surge we’ve seen taking place across the board in Arkansas has provided plenty of opportunity for us pundit types to analyze the two candidate’s approaches. By nearly every conceivable measure, one would be arguing in vain if they said Griffin’s campaign has been anything short of a well-oiled, professional machine. You haven’t seen the same missteps made by several other GOP candidates in this cycle from Team Griffin; he put in all the necessary groundwork leading up to this election, has stayed on message, and has largely dictated the discussion.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to run an efficient and effective campaign when the most obvious knocks against you — your connections to the failed policies of the Bush/Rove years and the multiple scandalous schemes you carried out on their behalf for your own career advancement — were purposely not brought up by your underdog opponent, because, well, I guess she thought stating facts regarding your unethical behavior amounted to mudslinging that was beneath her. To be sure, this strategic decision early on has been proven to be disastrous for Elliott, as it was probably her best only shot to chip away at the well-financed Griffin machine. Instead of spending her post-primary time telling voters what they need to know about Griffin’s background and character, Elliott’s campaign merely sat in neutral, making rounds and shaking hands, but not even beginning to get out ahead of the game by being aggressively attacking Griffin and contrasting their stark policy differences.  Elliott, instead, chose to focus on 2010 “non-issues” like generic support for education and ethics in D.C. when hers is the party in power.

However, as we are well aware, this approach has not worked well for Mrs. Elliott; poll after poll has her trailing Griffin by double-digits, the Arkansas Election Line has declared the race “Safe Griffin,” and just this past week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to pull back on plans to purchase television ads touting her candidacy.  Like most on the political left in this state, we certainly support Elliott and know she’s the superior public servant; that said, Matt and I are not the types to stick our heads in the sand, sip the Kool-Aid, and ignore the reality of missed opportunities and certain failure, just because we personally like the candidate.

Now we have reached the campaign homestretch, and Elliott, long known for being a fighter in the state legislature, has finally “seen the light” and begun shifting her approach and sharpening her elbows when discussing Griffin’s shady past.

Elliott and her campaign have waded into making Griffin’s background an issue, distributing a flier from a group referring to Griffin as one of the most “crooked” candidates in the nation. She’s also been helped by former President Bill Clinton, who used a campaign stop for Elliott to criticize Griffin as someone with “ethical problems and political abuse-of-power charges.”

Although this is exactly the approach we have been long waiting for from Elliott’s campaign, Jay Barth also reminds us of the risk involved in making the race more about Griffin being unacceptable than touting Joyce herself:

Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College, said Elliott faces a challenge in going too aggressively after Griffin with ethics accusations. Barth said she may risk being perceived as going negative before voters get to know her. It may also open the door for Griffin to attack her voting record as too liberal for the district. “It’s difficult. That said, the clock is ticking and it’s ultimately going to do no good if that information doesn’t get out there,” Barth said.

Team Timmy! (that well-oiled machine), had no doubt been sitting around for months waiting for the character attacks to come, and were more than ready to respond.  Long ago the campaign website managed to boil Griffin’s scandalous past as interim US attorney to “former prosecutor” on the ol’ resume, as Matt pointed out. Then as it became apparent Elliott was finally ready to come after him on character, he works to get out ahead of the issue and attack her with the same charge.  First, through what should’ve been a paid advertisement in the Dem-Gaz, writer Paul Greenberg did his best Shawn Eckert imitation in trying to take Elliott out at the knees. This was soon followed by a radio ad, where Griffin claims Elliott is “failing the character test” because she’s smearing him. The next day, a new tv spot was released, playing upon the same theme:

Following the release of the ad, the two sparred at the AETN debate on October 11, and questions of personal character and integrity led to the most intense moments of the event, where Elliott remained unapologetic about telling voters the truth about Griffin’s past. The momentum Elliott’s seems to be picking up after her shift in message was only further augmented by well-attended appearances with Rep. Snyder and President Clinton this week. And just yesterday, Elliott’s campaign seemingly responded directly to the last Timmy! spot with this new ad:

As for the ad itself, obviously I think the stepped-up attacks on Griffin are the way to go (and the recent head of steam the campaign seems to be getting backs that assertion), but I’d be lying if I told you I think that literal bible thumping and using the Kendrick Chapel Baptist Church in Willisville as a backdrop for a political ad of any kind is in good taste. Frankly, it shouldn’t be too hard for someone to both tout their own morals and contrast that to Griffin’s behavior without coming off as holier-than-thou (which she certainly does when claiming Timmy! falls short of living up to Exodus 20:16).

Also, let’s be honest here: most progressives are offended, if not disgusted, with the way the other side blends religion and politics. Well, I’m not one to pretend it’s not equally off-putting when someone on my side uses the same trick. As Jay Barth pointed out, the risk Joyce runs in stepping up the attacks is going too negative on Griffin all at once because the time to inform voters about him has almost run out. Knowing that, stepping in holy waters to get the point across probably isn’t the best method.

Then again, a victory for Joyce Elliott on Nov. 2, at this point, would be an upset of near Biblical proportions. Perhaps even tha G-o-d himself approves of this message and Joyce’s shifting strategy.

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3 Responses to “AR-02: At Last, Joyce Calls Out Timmy! (And Even God Approves Of The Shift In Strategy)”

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  1. Tweets that mention AR-02: At Last, Joyce Calls Out Timmy! (And Even God Approves Of The Shift In Strategy) | Blue Hog Report: Arkansas's Source for Progressive Politics -- Topsy.com - October 18, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by 71862, Blue Hog Report. Blue Hog Report said: BHR: A look at @Joyce4Congress new strategy. http://www.bluehogreport.com/?p=1009 #AR02 #AR2 #toolittletoolate […]

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  2. AR-02: Elliott Gets Cartoony On Timmy!, But D-G Rejects Ad | Blue Hog Report: Arkansas's Source for Progressive Politics - October 25, 2010

    […] in her AR-02 congressional race with Karl Rove protege Timmy! Griffin, continuing a trend we’ve been been reporting. Per a campaign press release on her website, we find out about a hub-bub caused last week […]

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  3. AR-02: In Baseball and Politics, You Gotta Have a Good Closer | Blue Hog Report: Arkansas's Source for Progressive Politics - October 27, 2010

    […] on behalf of the state senator — and there’s no coincidence that it’s coming soon after deciding to take Griffin on directly regarding character. The drubbing Timmy! took at yesterday’s Political Animals Club debate […]

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