Christie calls Arkansas top pickup opportunity
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Arkansas the best opportunity in the country for Republicans to pick up a governor's seat as he visited the state Wednesday to campaign for Asa Hutchinson during his gubernatorial bid.
The potential 2016 GOP presidential contender also took aim at Hutchinson's Democratic rival Mike Ross, accusing him of being too tied to an unpopular Washington. Hutchinson and Ross are both former congressmen.
"There's a vision of a vibrant public and private sector, lower taxes, less spending, a government that's much more efficient and effective -- and then there's the Washington-style politics of Congressman Ross," Christie told reporters after he and Hutchinson visited with diners at a North Little Rock barbeque restaurant. "If you like what's going on in Washington, D.C., and you think that's effective governance right now, then vote for Ross."
Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, headlined a series of fundraisers Wednesday for Hutchinson in central and northwest Arkansas. Hutchinson and Ross are running to succeed Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who is term limited. Hutchinson's campaign did not have a figure on how much was raised by Christie's visit.
Ross accused Hutchinson of engaging in the type of partisanship Christie decried.
"Congressman Hutchinson has a proven history as a hyper partisan, and it's the absolute highest form of hypocrisy for him to stand next the leader of a bitterly partisan DC-based organization and preach to Arkansans about the dangers of partisan politics," Ross said in a statement released by his campaign.
Christie defended the RGA's television ad criticizing Ross over the sale of his Prescott pharmacy to USA Drug as part of a $1.25 million deal in 2007. The drugstore chain bought the land and building alone for $420,000 in June 2007. He and his wife also received more than $834,000 for a customer list, store inventory and an agreement to not compete with the new owners.
The ad cites questions raised in 2009 about whether the chain paid the Democratic lawmaker more than the building was worth. Ross' campaign has called the ad "slanderous" and released a letter from the House Committee on Standards of Conduct that said the chain paid fair market value for the building and found no evidence Ross had violated House ethics rules.
"I understand why it makes the congressman uncomfortable because it's absolutely true, and he would rather not have people talk about those issues," Christie said of the ad.
Ross said the spot smeared him and his wife.
"Congressman Hutchinson has been running for statewide office for nearly 30 years, but he has never sunk this low to win an election, and I pray he has a change of heart," Ross said Wednesday.
Ross accused Hutchinson of trying to deflect criticism over receiving a homestead tax credit on two homes. Hutchinson in 2012 repaid $1,050 to Pulaski County for three of the four years he claimed the credit there and in Benton County. After the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the credit in July, Hutchinson paid another $1,750 for penalties and for the credit he claimed in 2008, despite the statute of limitations expiring.
The credit is also the subject of a Democratic Governors Association TV ad that Hutchinson has said is misleading.
Hutchinson distanced himself from the RGA ad on Wednesday.
"I haven't even looked at that history," Hutchinson said. "I've focused on not that issue. I've focused on what I want to do for Arkansas."