Arkansas is the only Southern state where Democrats are still a dominant electoral majority. It’s also the only state in the former Confederacy that’s never elected an African-American candidate to Congress or statewide office. Joyce Elliott hopes to change that shameful history this year.
Elliott, a state senator from Little Rock, is running for the second Congressional district seat vacated by Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder, who’s retiring. Much attention has been focused this spring on the Senate primary between Bill Halter and Blanche Lincoln, but Arkansas also has two open Congressional seats (Rep. Marion Berry is also retiring) this cycle, making it a prime battleground in 2010. Elliott is running in a crowded primary against Speaker of the House Robbie Wills, former Synder chief of staff David Boling and Patrick Kennedy, Director of Public Programs at the Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock, among others. One early poll shows Elliott with a slight lead, though most of the electorate is still undecided. The candidates held their first debate Tuesday night. Here’s her opening statement:
Race is not the only factor that separates Elliott from the rest of the pack, though it does make her background particularly unique. She grew up in the dirt-poor town of Willisville, population 188, and was the first student to integrate the local high school in rural southwest Arkansas (30 minutes from Hope). “That was ugly,” she told me when we met in Little Rock. “There were no soldiers, no cameras.” Her first campaign ad recounts her biography: