Politics & Policy

Obama’s Arkansas Problem

Is the president going to lose the Democratic primary there?

In West Virginia, federal inmate Keith Judd recently swiped 42 percent of Democratic votes from the president, indicating the level of dissatisfaction among the rank and file. And according to a Talk Business–Hendrix College poll conducted on May 10, Obama leads John Wolfe, a virtually unknown candidate, in Arkansas’s 4th congressional district by only 7 points, 45–38.

Three weeks earlier, the Talk Business–Hendrix College poll showed the president leading by 65–24 in the slightly less conservative 1st district, but that was before Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage.

Wolfe, an attorney from Tennessee, tells NRO the new poll numbers indicate Democrats’ discontent with their standard-bearer. “He doesn’t understand them,” he says. “I think it’s more manifest in the health-care area. I think they would like something different.” For his part, Wolfe promises to repeal Obamacare.

As The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol has noted, Wolfe isn’t a political novice. He was the Democratic candidate in Tennessee’s 3rd congressional district three times. And he owes the state $10,000 for failing to file campaign documents in his 2007 run for the state senate.

The main problem with Obama’s presidency, Wolfe argues, is that the chief executive has merely “ratified institutional failures.” The corrupt government in Afghanistan? “He expanded our commitment to it.” Our expensive health-care system? “He made a deal to protect Big Pharma.” The irresponsible lending on Wall Street? “He perpetuated ‘too big to fail.’”

And the reason for Obama’s failure to change Washington stems from his personnel: He surrounds himself with bankers, such as former chief of staff Bill Daley (JP Morgan) and current head staffer Jack Lew (Citibank).

“We need someone who will represent the people, not just bankers,” Wolfe concludes. “He doesn’t visit the South that much, either. He needs to show more concern here.”

Obama’s disconnect has allowed Wolfe, who hasn’t run a single television or radio ad, to gain support in the Natural State. The last time he visited Arkansas was in March, and his campaign has largely consisted of cold-calling voters and newspapers to get the word out.

Wolfe’s critics might claim that he’s a Republican in disguise, but the candidate says he’s a progressive through and through. He notes that Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, whom he describes as “perfect,” were progressives. “Republicans are not doing what I would like them to do,” Wolfe says. “They weren’t always this way. Even Ford and Nixon would still stand up against industrial waste and pollution. They would stand up against corporate greed.”

The Democratic party, meanwhile, is “immersed too much in identity politics,” Wolfe says. “I don’t necessarily like that. I think my thoughts are traditionally progressive, and those values a long time ago were shared by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

And now that the president has announced his support for same-sex marriage, it’s likely the discontent among southern Democrats will only increase.

“The president’s policies are wildly unpopular in a party that has historically supported mainstream Democrats like Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton,” says Republican state representative David Sanders. “He’s got some major problems, I think. A lot of it is driven by his new position on marriage.”

To be fair to the president, Arkansas and West Virginia have been reliable Republican states in the presidential election for years. Nonetheless, “I think that [his support for same-sex marriage] presents potential problems for states like Virginia and North Carolina,” Sanders notes. It appears that Obama’s much-discussed “Appalachian problem” is still alive and kicking.

“President Obama has been out of touch with Arkansas since Day One,” adds Arkansas Republican congressman Tim Griffin. “He lost the state by 19 points in 2008. I would suspect he’ll lose it by 20 or more in 2012.”

— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.

editors’ note: Thanks to our readers for pointing out that this article’s original title, “Obama’s Appalachian Problem,” was incorrect, since Arkansas is not part of Appalachia.


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