This is the eleventh edition of a research project at PoliticusUSA known as Taking Back the House. You can check out the previous edition here. The purpose of this project is to analyze each Republican Congressional district in the United States and see how likely the district can go ‘Blue.’ To do this, I will take a look at the overall demographics of the district, as well as review the historical voting patterns and the record of the Congressperson representing the district. This series will run until we’ve looked at every single district in the country, which should take us right into the 2014 campaign season.
Congressional District: Arkansas 1st District
U.S. Representative: Rick Crawford
Median Household Income: $34,704 (National Average: $51,017)
Unemployment Rate: 11.6% (National Rate: 7.2%)
Gender: 50.5% Female, 49.5% Male (National Percentages: 50.8% Female, 49.2% Male)
Age: 15.9% 65 and over (National Percentage: 12.8%)
Race: 78.7% White, 18.4% Black, 0.5% Asian (National Percentages: 72.4% White, 12.6% Black, 4.8% Asian, 0.9% American Indian)
Ethnicity: 97.2% Non-Hispanic, 2.8% Hispanic (National Percentages: 83.6% Non-Hispanic, 16.4% Hispanic)
Urban/Rural Population Split: 45.6% Urban, 54.4% Rural (National Split: 82% Urban, 18% Rural)
District Voting Patterns: Prior to Crawford winning in 2010, the district had long been represented by Democrats. Marion Berry served seven consecutive terms in the House, and twice ran unopposed. A popular Congressman, only his first election in 1996 was relatively close, when he won 53-44. After that, no race was closer than 20 points. Berry was a Blue Dog Democrat during his tenure and during his last term he voted against the ACA.
With Berry retiring, the Republicans saw a prime opportunity to gain a seat. The party decided to run Crawford, who was previously a news anchor with a Jonesboro television station. Crawford easily won the Republican primary and then became the first Republican Representative in the 1st District since Reconstruction when he defeated Democrat Chad Causey, 52-44. While there was redistricting in 2012, the changes weren’t major in Arkansas as the state only has 4 districts. The 1st picked up some additional land area, but the demographics stayed roughly the shame. Crawford won reelection in 2012 by 17 points over Democrat Scott Ellington.
When it comes to Presidential elections, the district went for Mitt Romney in 2012 by a large margin of 28 points. In 2008, John McCain carried the district by 19 points despite Berry running unopposed that year.
Congressional Activity by Crawford: Crawford is currently on two committees: the Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. As one would expect from a Southern Republican, Crawford is a social conservative, as he’s pro-life and against same-sex marriage while also opposing any restrictions on gun rights. At the same time, he’s basically kept his head down on these issues and not been outspoken about them. Of course, like just about every Republican, he is opposed to the ACA and has voted to repeal it numerous times.
While he is considered a rank-and-file Republican, as per OpenCongress he has voted with the party 96% of the time, he has had the courage to go against the party on a couple of key votes. He voted for the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014 on October 16th. Of course, this was the authorization to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the federal government. While 144 republicans voted against it, he broke away and did the right thing. Also, he was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote against the Ryan Budget in March 2013.
Crawford voted this way in those two key House votes even though the Club for Growth had targeted him in February 2013 as a Congressperson that needs to face a primary challenger in 2014. The Super PAC started a website, www.PrimaryMyCongressman.com. The website is used to highlight ‘liberal’ Republicans and RINOs that need a primary challenger in order to get more conservative members in the House. Considering that Crawford voted to avert disaster by raising the debt ceiling, it appears that Club for Growth will continue the targeting.
Notable Quotes by Crawford:
“If I am elected, I will vote to repeal this law and replace it with reforms that will preserve the best parts of the American healthcare system while addressing the problems of access and affordability.” – From Crawford’s campaign website.
“The single greatest threat facing the United States right now is our growing national debt and Washington’s insatiable desire to spend ever-increasing amounts of borrowed money. ” – Also from Crawford’s campaign website.
Odds of District Going Blue in 2014: Not bad. Yes, looking at the demographics, one would think that it is nearly impossible to get a Democrat elected in this district. The majority of the population is rural. Also, it is nearly 80% white. However, you also have high unemployment and a very low median income. There is also the recent history of the district going for Democrats. Finally, we need to add in the very likely possibility that Crawford will face a Tea Party challenger in a primary and lose.
If the Tea Party decides to go after Crawford and run an extreme conservative candidate, there is a very real chance that the Democrats can get back this seat. While there are obviously old, white rural conservatives that just want someone further and further to the right and will constantly vote Tea Party, you have a large portion of this district that is poor and reliant on the social safety net. Constantly demonizing the poor, as the Tea Party and far-right conservatives have been doing for a while now, may start to eventually backfire in these low-income red districts. The Democratic Party needs to run a viable candidate in this district, as it can be had in the right circumstances.
Justin is the Managing Editor and a Contributing Writer for Politicus Sports, PoliticusUSA’s very own sports site. You can check out the site here.