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Arkansas Business - Chad Causey, Rick Crawford in Heated Race for East Arkansas Seat

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Location: Jonesboro, AR

The retirement of one of Arkansas' political stalwarts has led to an increasingly bitter and heated battle for his east Arkansas seat, with both major-party candidates questioning each others' honesty in the final days of the campaign.

On some matters, First District hopefuls Democrat Chad Causey and Republican Rick Crawford agree. Both want to extend the tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 and they both support reopening trade with Cuba - a major issue in this farm-heavy district.

The two also vent frustration with Washington about the economy as they vie for the House seat held by retiring U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, a Democrat who has held the seat since 1997.

The race pits Causey, Berry's former chief of staff, against Crawford, who founded a farm news service called AgWatch. Green Party nominee Ken Adler is also running for the seat.

Causey, 34, said he shares the concerns of voters in the 26-county district about the economy and jobs.

"Hardworking Arkansans are just struggling to make ends meet, and they want some common sense back in the process. I share that frustration with them, and want to take Arkansas conservative common sense back to Washington," Causey told The Associated Press in an interview.

Crawford, 44, said he believes Republicans have a chance to win a district that has long been considered a Democratic stronghold.

"This is a very conservative district and maybe the most conservative district" (in Arkansas), Crawford told the AP.

The two have said they want to cut down on spending in Washington, and both support a balanced budget amendment Causey has said he'll propose that would cut congressional pay by 10 percent. Crawford has also called for cutting redundant or inefficient programs in the federal government.

Crawford, who entered the race before Berry announced his retirement, has focused much of his campaign on his opposition to the health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed into law. Like many GOP congressional hopefuls, Crawford has vowed to seek repeal of the health care bill if elected to the House.

Crawford has accused Causey of being too closely aligned with Obama and national Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and has attacked Causey as a Washington insider for his work for Berry.

Causey has responded by pointing out areas where he differs from the Democrats' national agenda. He says he would have voted against the health care bill, but instead of repealing the measure he says he wants to find ways to improve it.

"I have great concerns about long-term cost of the legislation and I certainly would work to repeal any cuts to Medicare that would harm coverage for seniors," Causey said. "I have great concern about individual mandates and business mandates requiring purchase of insurance."

Causey, however, s aid there are parts of the legislation that he supports, such as prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Crawford says he doesn't see any part of the health care legislation that should be kept intact and said he supports voting to de-fund it if a repeal isn't possible.

"Off the top of my head I can't think of anything in Obamacare that warrants keeping it," Crawford said. "I think we need to look at free-market solutions to health care costs. I think what happened with Obamacare was a detriment to the quality of care and a detriment to the access of care."

The two have sparred over Social Security, with Causey accusing Crawford of wanting to privatize the system by creating personal accounts.

Crawford has accused Causey of lying about his record on Social Security. Crawford said at a Republican gathering in March that he supported allowing people "my age or younger" to invest in private accounts for Soc ial Security. Causey has pointed to the video, posted on YouTube, as evidence of Crawford's support for privatization.

"Private accounts is the same as privatization," Causey said in a recent debate between the two.

Crawford wouldn't say in an interview whether he supports private accounts, saying he wants to look at ways to keep Social Security around for future generations.

"I have supported the idea of making sure that Social Security is solvent, which it's not right now," Crawford said.

Causey has also criticized Crawford as backing a 23 percent national sales tax to replace the federal income tax. Crawford has said on his Facebook page that the so-called Fair Tax is an "interesting" idea.

"I disagree with his support for that," Causey said. "I don't think a national sales tax of 23 percent in this economy is a good idea."

Crawford dismissed the criticism, saying he was merely expressing interest in the idea.

"You know what?" Cra wford says in response. "Unicorns are an interesting idea, too, but they're also fictional - just like Causey's claims that I want to raise taxes 23 percent."

Crawford has also faced questions during the campaign about filing for bankruptcy in 1994 and erasing more than $12,000 in debt. Crawford, who frequently talks about controlling federal spending in his campaign, has said that he repaid his debt by 1998.

Crawford authorized a Missouri hospital in August to tell The Associated Press that he had paid his bill - but he wouldn't release more information about when he paid it or what care he received.

The $3,600 Crawford owed the hospital was the largest share of the debts he declared in his bankruptcy, filed in Missouri. Crawford has said that the hospital was the only one of his creditors listed that still had financial records from when he was in bankruptcy.

Causey and his campaign have accused Crawford of not being straightforward with voters abou t the bankruptcy.

"I think he hasn't told the whole truth," Causey said. "I'm ready to talk about issues of the campaign, not this, but he just hasn't told the whole truth about it."

Crawford has accused Causey of trying to distract voters from the issues by talking about his bankruptcy, and said he's been open about his finances.

"I really hope he would have something more substantial to address in this campaign than a 16-year-old bankruptcy," Crawford said.

The fight for the 1st District seat comes as Republicans say they're poised to make major gains at the state and federal level in Arkansas. Democrats are fighting to keep Berry's seat and the 2nd District in central Arkansas in the party's control, and both parties are focusing heavily on the east Arkansas district.

Both have relied on political heavyweights to help in the race. Former President Bill Clinton has campaigned twice for Causey in the state, and House Republican leader John Boeh ner visited Little Rock over the weekend to help Crawford's bid.

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