Clinton's Arkansas in play as presidential battleground state
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) --The fertile land along the Mississippi river helped Arkansas earn its name, the land of opportunity. It is where a boy from Hope grew up to be president, an entrepreneur named Sam Walton became the richest man in America, and a college team called the Razorbacks rule.
Although Arkansas has long been considered one of the most Democratic of the southern states, it has increasingly trended Republican during the past decade. This election year, both Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush see opportunity here.
Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush each would like to count on
the support of the traditionally Democratic state of Arkansas
"We sit right between Tennessee, which is where the vice president is from, and Texas, where Governor Bush, of course, is from," said Arkansas state Rep. Steve Jones, a Democrat.
The latest presidential polls here indicate a dead heat, with support breaking down across geographic lines. Gore can count on broad support in the southern part of the state, particularly in the southwest, where President Clinton was born and raised. The eastern part of Arkansas, along the Mississippi River, is also a bastion of Democratic support.
At Ray's barbecue in West Memphis, regular Jim McNease says that the best part of President Clinton's legacy will live on if the vice president wins in November. "I feel like he's a chip off the block in there, and the guy that's in there balanced our budget," McNease said.
The northern part of the state, particularly the Ozarks, is Bush country.
"This is the strength of our party, so the key is to maximum our votes up here, get 65 to 70 percent of the vote," said Bush campaign worker Richard Bearden.
The Republican party's standing has been boosted by the region's brisk economy, as well as a steady influx of retirees into resort towns such as Bella Vista. Along with their golf clubs, many seniors have brought a sense of Midwestern conservatism with them.
In the center of Arkansas lies Little Rock. The state capital and surrounding area is more politically balanced than other regions of Arkansas -- and winning there historically means carrying the state.
"Soccer mom" Linda Mealy backs Gore on the issues. "I like his ideas about Medicare and Social Security," she recently told CNN.
But Darlene Langley says that Bush's opposition to abortion rights has won her over. "It weighs heavily on my decision," she said.
Gore has a powerful weapon in the state's favorite son, Bill Clinton. The president has been pushing hard, calling on Democratic leaders and longtime friends, and planning a fund-raiser on the vice president's behalf later this week.
But it remains unclear whether Clinton still has enough influence to swing the state Gore's way. And both Democrats and Republicans expect the race for Arkansas' six electorate votes to go right down to the wire.