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Meet the Candidates: Democratic primary for Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District

Candidates Gwen Combs, Clarke Tucker, Jonathan Dunkley & Paul Spencer are all competing to win the democratic party's endorsement for Arkansas's District 2 congressional seat in the May 22nd primary. (Photo: KATV)

It's a race that's been widely talked about on the national level -- the chatter all having to do with the possibility that Arkansas' District 2 congressional seat could flip from red back to blue.

Arkansas' District 2 encompasses eight counties: Pulaski, Saline, Faulkner, Perry, Conway, Yell, Van Buren and White counties. The AR-2 congressional seat is currently occupied by incumbent Republican Congressman French Hill. But four Democrats are vying for their party's endorsement on Primary Tuesday to unseat Congressman Hill in the November general election.

Two-time state representative Clarke Tucker is the presumed front runner in the race, garnering 41 percent support in a recent Talk Business and Politics-Hendrix College poll.

The Little Rock attorney says he's fed up with partisan division in Washington, especially over healthcare. A poll released by Public Policy Polling in April shows the moderate democrat to be neck and neck in a hypothetical match up between him and Hill. Tucker believes that's indicative of District 2's political climate.

"It's like Congress doesn't have our backs right now and people are ready for a change," said Tucker. "The fact that it's that close this early in the race -- six months before the election in a hypothetical match up -- I think it just shows how much people are ready for that change."

Political newcomer Gwen Combs is a teacher with the Little Rock School District. The Ohio native and Air Force veteran's foray into politics came when she organized the 2017 Women's March in Little Rock.

As the only woman running in the race, Combs says her goal is to represent those who are currently under-represented in the nation's capital.

"Everybody needs a seat at the table -- women, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities and people of color," said Combs. "It's important for me to show solidarity with people who have been marginalized in our government."

Paul Spencer, another relatively new face on the political scene, has been a teacher at Catholic High School in Little Rock for the past 19 years. Spencer announced his intent to seek the 2nd District seat in July 2017.

Spencer says his major goals are to establish universal healthcare and implement ways to eliminate student loan debt. Above all else, the school teacher says his primary objective is to run for Congress using money that only comes from Arkansans.

"We don't take any money from anyone other than actual persons," said Spencer. "No PAC money, no special interest money, no party money. That's been the cornerstone of my activism since 2011 and there was no need to change that for this. It's kind of a statement you make."

The last to enter the race was progressive Jonathan Dunkley. A graduate of Philander Smith College and the Clinton School of Public Service, Dunkley's central focus is on education. He says it's vital that the next generation be able to get a higher education without worrying about loans once they have their degree in hand.

"Education is what has me in a position to run for congress," said Dunkley. "If I was out there saying I didn't have any formal education, people would question that, right? They want a level of credibility and education is one of those ways where you can show I've passed and I have a sense of what we're talking about."

A recent Talk Business and Politics-Hendrix College poll shows the race is pretty much anyone's game, with nearly 32 percent of likely Democratic voters still undecided. Combs comes in second place with 11 percent. Spencer has 10 percent and Dunkley polled at 6 percent.

Primary hopefuls need 51 percent of the vote next Tuesday in order to avoid a runoff election. If it's unavoidable, the top two candidates will square off in another election June 19.

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