February 28, 2012 by Jack Suntrup
While the Tea Party seemed like a surprise guest during the 2010 election, this time around, local Democrats are ready for a fight.
“We had no clue the tidal wave of GOP and Tea Party that would take us out,” said Tyler Clark, Washington County Democratic Committee chairman.
With help from local and national Tea Party groups, Republicans made historic gains from the County level to the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 election. But, as the 2012 election draws near, the question is whether or not the Tea Party can duplicate the successes it had two years ago.
Issue after issue, the uncompromising Tea Party is what will drive the Democratic base in 2012, Clark said. Clark believes that a “number of people are pissed off, so we are coming back with a vengeance. We spent the last couple of years getting really organized.”
Part of the county party’s strategy is preparing earlier this year. Typically, the election office headquarters does not open until July; this year it will open next month. Event fundraising, too, is starting earlier, he said.
Clark also wants to be more efficient in explaining his party’s platform. Coordinating closer with the state party should help to hone their message. Using the state to help with fundraising, headquarters, and talking points will help, Clark said. The youth vote will also be important. Using social media, coordinating with UA’s Young Democrats, and opening a headquarters near Fayetteville High School and University of Arkansas are all important, Clark said. Clark noted that the whole executive committee is under the age of 35.
“If we stand on the shoulders of those who have built the party up, use the momentum of the young people behind them, I think we’ll have success with recruiting those independent voters and be able to listen to a broader constituency than we have before,” Clark said.
Broader constituencies will play a big part in the 2012 election, as both Clark and Chairman Washington County Tea Party Tea Party, Jeff Oland, realize the impact of a nearly 30 percent population growth in Washington County since 2000. The resulting gains mean greater representation in Little Rock.
Noting UA’s growth over the decade, Oland said, “Washington County houses the University of Arkansas, the biggest think tank in Arkansas. All the intellectuals that have an idea on how to ‘save the planet,’ ‘save the community’ are here and have their roots here,” he said. “I believe our challenge is bigger than anywhere else in Arkansas and if we’re able to make a change here it’s going to be significant,” Oland said.
Clark sees a similar situation, but from a different perspective.
“We’ve never really had a chance to have a voice in Little Rock before to this caliber, so we’ve got to take advantage of that,” Clark said.
In order to gain representation in Little Rock, the local party will have to combat state candidates tying Democrats to controversial national issues, Clark said.
“They talk about national issues, and that’s fine if you’re a national candidate. But if you’re representing a community in West Fork or Fayetteville, you can’t play national politics,” Clark said. “Paint us with the Mike Beebe brush all you want; Mike Beebe is one of the most popular governors in the country,” he said.
Read the latest Observer print edition for Jack Suntrup’s story on local Tea Partiers preparing for 2012.