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Republican who voted to repeal Obamacare draws challenge from cancer survivor

Democrat Clarke Tucker is running in the deeply red state of Arkansas.

CREDIT: 
keeparkansaslegal,
 YouTube (screengrab)
CREDIT: keeparkansaslegal, YouTube (screengrab)

An Arkansas state legislator who survived cancer announced Monday that he’s running for Congress, hoping to take down his district’s current Republican representative, who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Clarke Tucker, a Democrat, told ThinkProgress Monday that his own experience with bladder cancer last year helped him realize just how real the consequences of repealing the ACA would be.

“Thankfully, I had access to great health care, but it made access and [protections for people with] preexisting conditions hit home in a way that only something like getting cancer can,” Tucker said. “And I know I’m not the only one in that situation.”

Tucker said he remembers last summer, when the House passed the American Health Care Act, as well as the party Republicans threw in the Rose Garden, despite the fact that the bill had not — and, ultimately, would not — pass the Senate. Tucker, who was serving in the Arkansas legislature at the time, said that day stuck with him because he had been working on health care issues in the state legislature, including Medicaid expansion. Rep. French Hill, who currently represents Arkansas’s second district where Tucker is running, voted in favor of the AHCA.

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“The American Health Care Act would have dismantled [Medicaid expansion],” Tucker said Monday. “That really made an impression on me.”

That was the first time Tucker first thought seriously about running for Congress. And then he was diagnosed with cancer.

Now, Tucker is in good health, but his battle with cancer has reinforced his original instinct. He wants to go to Washington to fight for the “hundreds of thousands” of people like him, many of whom don’t have access to health insurance like he did.

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Tucker’s fight won’t be easily won, however. The district in which he’s running went for President Trump by about 10 points in 2016, according to Tucker, and he faces a primary race against at least two other candidates. But Tucker is hopeful.

“Arkansas has a history of voting for people rather than party,” he said Monday, citing the elections of 1968 and 2010 as examples.

In 1968, Arkansas elected a Democratic senator, a Republican governor, and voted for Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace. More recently, in 2010, Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was reelected in a landslide, winning every county in Arkansas.

That makes Tucker hopeful that if he can get his message out and help voters understand who he is, being a Democrat won’t hinder him in the deep red state.

If he does win, Tucker knows that’s just the beginning of the battle, too, but he says he’s ready to thread the needle as a Democrat who wants to work with Republicans where possible. He said Monday that infrastructure would be one of his priorities, just as the Trump administration says infrastructure is a priority as well.

“As a Democrat in the state legislature… I’ve been in the minority,” he said. “The only way I can get anything done is to work in a bipartisan manner. That’s just how I approach legislative service.”