Jewish World Review Oct. 2, 2002/ 26 Tishrei, 5763
an Arkansas sinner
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. One Arkansas sinner in Washington is enough. That's the sentiment the Democrats are counting on to take Tim Hutchinson out of the U.S. Senate.
With little more than a month to go, Mr. Hutchinson, completing his first term, is in a spot of trouble against Mark Pryor, 41, the state attorney general and son of a former senator who cultivated a bland and inoffensive personality that made him "the state's beloved son."
The most recent Zogby poll, taken for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, shows the son of the Beloved Son with a two-point lead. This is statistically insignificant, but it's bad news not only for an incumbent but for the Republicans who are counting on keeping the seat in their quest for a new majority in the Senate. With Robert Torricelli a corpse in New Jersey and Tom Harkin wounded in Iowa, the Republicans who could be thinking about throwing a grand old party have unexpected trouble in Texas and here in Arkansas. This has put notions of celebrating on hold.
The scandal, such as it is, dogging Mr. Hutchinson is over his divorce four years ago from his wife of 29 years and his subsequent marriage to a former aide in his Washington office. The anger is particularly acute in the Ozark counties that are particularly religious and particularly Republican. What makes it delicious for the Democrats is that Mr. Hutchinson is an ordained Baptist preacher, a graduate of Bob Jones University and the Senate's champion of family values. A divorce hardly puts him in league with the state's most famous son, who cut a wide swath through the female population of Arkansas when he was state attorney general and then governor - he was credibly accused even of rape - and who later treated the White House as his private bordello. Life, as we know, is unfair.
Unlike the former president, who enlisted a panel of preachers to rehabilitate him (the Rev. Jesse Jackson counseled him at the White House between his own rutting trysts) and proceeded to make "intern" a naughty word, Mr. Hutchinson has apologized, to G-d, to his church, to his constituents, and there's been nary a breath of scandal since. He calls the episode the "saddest" time of his life. He defeated a spirited challenge in the Republican primary, waged by a state senator who campaigned with his wife and 13 children. The primary campaign became something of a tasteless running joke, but it was a constant reminder of what a man truly dedicated to his domestic duties can accomplish.
The Democrats and their acolytes in the friendly Arkansas media never pass up an opportunity to promise never to use the divorce and remarriage against Mr. Hutchinson. Mr. Pryor and his surrogates berate the senator for his conservative voting record - he was once identified by his voting record as the most conservative member of the Senate - and scold him for now moderating his politics. He voted with the Democrats, for example, on the prescription-drug entitlement for seniors.
The rap against Mr. Pryor is that he is the ultimate veggieburger in a red-meat state. Like Mr. Hutchinson, he professes a born-again evangelical Christian faith and is a pillar of his church, a hotbed of right-to-life sentiment. The ideological differences between the two men are slight and hard to find. Mr. Pryor praises President Bush, who has campaigned here three times for the senator and is expected back at least once more. He presents himself as just like his daddy and not really very different from the senator on abortion, important to voters in the pews, and other issues of faith and family. He has, in fact, relished identification with right-to-life sentiment in the past, and last month turned down an invitation to appear with Mr. Hutchinson on "Meet the Press," where Tim Russert could have pressed him with questions requiring answers that would offend national Democrats, i.e., the feminists with the big knives that keep male legs crossed in meetings where the campaign money is apportioned. Mr. Pryor declined the invitation because "Arkansas people couldn't see the program because they're in church on Sunday morning."
This is the kind of answer that his father, who left Washington after two terms without leaving a trace of ever having been there, perfected first as governor and then in the U.S. Senate. The elder Pryor was the harmless kind of boy that every mother wants for her daughter, and "little Mark" has faithfully copied the technique. It works because most Arkansans are still smarting from the derision brought down on the state by Bill Clinton, who lived up to every barefoot-hillbilly cliche that once defined Arkansas. The home folks yearn for the rest of the world to think of them as presentable enough for the parlors of nice folks. One of the "issues" this year is whether to put a "monument" to the nine black students who desegregated Little Rock Central High, all of whom are still living, at the school or on the state Capitol grounds.
Mr. Hutchinson can be "nice," too, and he has been an effective senator. At 53, he is accumulating seniority on the Armed Services Committee and should have expected the cakewalk that was once the due of Southern senators.
Whether he can save his seat depends on whether Bill Clinton
used up all the Christian forgiveness where the righteous (and
the self-righteous) rule.
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