LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The race for a central Arkansas congressional seat has turned increasingly bitter in the final stretch, as a former North Little Rock mayor and a Little Rock banking executive take aim at one another's backgrounds.
The exchanges between Democratic nominee Pat Hays and Republican French Hill highlight just how close the race has become for the 2nd Congressional District, a contest Democrats believe may be their best chance to reclaim one of Arkansas' four Republican-held U.S. House seats.
The two and Libertarian nominee Debbie Standiford are vying to succeed Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who's running for lieutenant governor.
Hays, 67, is the former mayor of North Little Rock and touts his 24 years leading that city as evidence he can work in a bipartisan manner. Hays says he wants to focus on job creation and improving the economy if elected.
"We cared about problems. We don't care about partisanship. We try to bring people together," Hays said. "And that's what ought to happen in Congress."
Hill, 57, is the chief executive of Delta Trust and Bank and says his business background distinguishes him in the race. He said his top priorities include limiting federal government spending, and giving state and local government more control over the way they spend that money.
"I bring 30 years of experience to the 2nd District office that includes 30 years in the private sector of starting businesses, helping other people start businesses and living under the federal rules that we all do when we're in business," Hill said.
Hays has tried to undercut that argument with television ads criticizing Hill for campaign contributions to a former state treasurer who was convicted of accepting bribes. Hill donated $250 to Martha Shoffner's 2010 re-election bid, while his bank donated $2,000. One ad accuses Hill of "getting rich with your money."
Neither Hill nor his bank were involved in the case that led to Shoffner's conviction, but the ads question why more state investments went toward Delta after the contributions. Hill has denied the investments were related to his campaign donations and said the investments were competitively bid.
"I think he's tried to connect dots that don't exist," Hill said.
Hill, meanwhile, has criticized Hays' leadership as mayor, citing 20 taxes that were increased during Hays' tenure and pay raises he received during that time.
"We don't want to have a tax-and-spend approach person go to Washington who is not accountable at those core functions," Hill said.
Hays has said his salary as mayor was comparable to those leading similar-sized cities.
"We would be happy to talk about our fiscal record anytime, anywhere, with anyone," Hays said.
Both say they oppose the federal health care law and would have voted against it, but are split on its future.
Hill supports repealing the measure and believes Congress should at least roll back some of its provisions. "It needs to be repealed and replaced with some things that provide more choice, more transparency, more competition and better outcomes for individuals," Hill said.
Hays said he doesn't support repeal, but would like changes. "There are things that need to be done to make it better, and I would fully support getting right in the middle of that," he said.
The two have also split over a state proposal to raise the minimum wage from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 by 2017. Hays has endorsed the proposal. Hill said he's still talking with employers and economists about the impact of the wage hike on jobs before taking a position.
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