LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Democrats are again enlisting their favorite political son to fend off a Republican drive to claim a U.S. Senate seat and other top offices, announcing Tuesday that former President Bill Clinton will return to the state to campaign for the second time this month.
The party said the former president would make a series of appearances in Arkansas over the weekend, starting Friday night with a rally in Hot Springs. The visits also come days before early voting begins Oct. 20 for the election.
"In Arkansas he's still seen as local, as popular, as understanding how important this election is," state Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said. "He wouldn't be spending this kind of time here if he just did not see the stakes as high as they are."
Clinton remains a beloved figure in Arkansas, where his presidential library is located and where the Little Rock airport is named for him and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. He's been a regular presence on the campaign trail in Arkansas and helped kick off Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor's re-election bid last year. Pryor's race against Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton is key to the net gain of six seats Republicans need to win control of the U.S. Senate.
He also boasts longstanding ties with the state's top candidates this year. Pryor's father, David, is a former governor and U.S. senator who was Clinton's mentor. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross got his start in politics driving Clinton around the state during the 1982 gubernatorial campaign. Ross is running against Republican Asa Hutchinson, a fellow ex-congressman who served as a House manager in Clinton's impeachment trial.
And James Lee Witt, who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Clinton, is running for the 4th District seat against Republican state Rep. Bruce Westerman.
Clinton's campaign swing includes a Saturday morning rally in his hometown of Hope. He also planned stops in North Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Forrest City on Sunday.
Clinton last week campaigned around the state on behalf of Democrats, urging voters in his home state to not use the midterm election as a protest against President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in Arkansas.
His campaign swings have followed a series of appearances by national Republican figures in the state, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The GOP has used the visits to try and highlight how unpopular Obama and other national Democratic figures remain in Arkansas.
Democrats say Clinton's ability to mobilize voters is crucial as they near the Nov. 4 election.
"If they know you, they'll vote for you regardless of the flavor of the month. If they don't, they opt for the flavor of the month," Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe said last week. "What can Clinton do? He can energize some of these people to offset whatever that flavor of the month happens to be."
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo