NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer accused congressional Republicans on Saturday night of risking the nation's credit status during deadlocked negotiations to raise the debt ceiling as he helped Arkansas Democrats raise money for a tough election battle next year.
The Democratic governor joined Arkansas' top Democrats in taking aim at the GOP-led Congress over the debt limit talks. Congressional leaders have struggled in urgent, weekend-long talks to avert an unprecedented government default.
"Their plan now is just to forget about the credit worthiness of the United States of America," Schweitzer said to a crowd of more than 1,300 people at Verizon Arena at the state party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. "I guess next week the Republicans have got a new finance plan. They're going to a pawn shop and they're going to pawn all of our national parks."
The fundraiser was held as state Democrats try to rebound from an election where Republicans made historic gains. In November, Republicans won three of the state's constitutional offices, a U. S. Senate seat and picked up two congressional seats long held by Democrats.
Democrats still hold a majority of the state House and Senate, but Republicans are confident they can win control of one or both chambers in next year's election and point to the unpopularity of President Barack Obama in the state as an advantage. Obama lost the state by 20 points in the 2008 election, and he's repeatedly polled poorly in the state.
Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who won re-election handily and remains popular in the state, dismissed the idea that Obama would be a drag for state and congressional candidates.
"They've been running against Obama since, what, '09. You can only do that so long," Beebe told reporters. "Arkansas is not Washington."
Beebe said that he believed "there will be consequences for everyone in Washington, D.C." if the nation is unable to raise its debt limit and defaults. But, the governor added, he thinks the blame right now rests more with congressional Republicans.
"Right now, I think the culprits are the Republicans in the House of Representatives, including some of our own," Beebe said.
Beebe said the key to keeping a majority-Democrat Legislature won't hinge on the presidential race, but on recruiting the best candidates. Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the state House and a 20-15 majority in the state Senate.
Republican Party Executive Director Chase Dugger said Republicans would have the advantage in recruiting the candidates and accused Democrats of backing a "tax and spend" agenda.
"The Republican Party will keep our focus on creating real economic reform that will create jobs and move our state forward," Dugger wrote in an e-mail. "18 and 51 isn't just a goal, in about 16 months it's going to be a reality."
U. S. Rep. Mike Ross, the state's only Democratic congressmen, took a swipe at two of his fellow House members.
"Tim Griffin already thinks he's running for the U. S. Senate and Rick Crawford has still got that deer in the headlight look," Ross said, referring to the congressmen representing central and eastern Arkansas.
Griffin represents the 2nd congressional district in central Arkansas, a region that Ross said became more Democratic after redistricting earlier this year. Though Griffin has been rumored as a potential candidate against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in 2014, he's dismissed such talk as premature. He noted that Ross has said he's considering a run for governor in 2014.
"While Mike Ross is busy running for governor, I am focused on helping Arkansas families today by encouraging job creation when our state unemployment is the highest in decades," Griffin said in an e-mail.
A spokeswoman for the Democratic Party said she expected the party to raise more than $500,000 from Saturday night's dinner.