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Danny Johnston, Associated Press
Former President Bill Clinton, left, talks with Former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross at a Ross fund raiser in Little Rock, Ark., Saturday, May 3, 2014. Ross is seeking the Democratic Party nomination in the race for Arkansas Governor.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former President Bill Clinton praised Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross on Saturday as the best candidate to lead Arkansas, saying Ross is the only candidate with a proven record of working across party lines in Washington

Clinton returned to his home state to headline a fundraiser for Ross, who got his start in politics working on Clinton's 1982 gubernatorial bid. Ross, a former congressman, faces an underfunded rival in the May 20 primary and has been focusing his attention primarily on Republican rival and fellow former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson.

Clinton praised Ross' tax cut and education proposals, and he said Ross has a better record when it comes to bipartisanship.

"You actually have a long record for both of them. And only one of them has consistently, even in the heated partisanship of Washington D.C., proven that he would get up every single day and try to find a way to get the show on the road by bringing people together across party lines — and that's Mike Ross," Clinton told a packed ballroom in downtown Little Rock.

Ross, meanwhile, took a swipe at Hutchinson for airing a television ad where he promises to "stand up to Washington liberals like President (Barack) Obama and (House Democratic leader) Nancy Pelosi."

"What do they have to do with state government in Arkansas?" Ross said. "I think Asa's spent too much time living and lobbying and even being a registered voter in Washington, D.C. This is not about Washington. This is about us."

Hutchinson, who served as Drug Enforcement Agency administrator and Homeland Security undersecretary during George W. Bush's presidency, moved his voter registration to Virginia in 2002 and returned to Arkansas as he prepared for the 2006 governor's race. Hutchinson defended his ad, accusing his chief Democratic rival of being out of touch with the state.

"If longtime Democratic Congressman Mike Ross thinks President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are not a threat to Arkansas when they force Obamacare on us then he has lost touch with Arkansas," Hutchinson said in a statement from his campaign.

Clinton, who served as Arkansas governor for nearly 12 years, still looms large in the state's politics. The former president's library is in downtown Little Rock, and he regularly campaigns on behalf of the state's top Democrats. He helped kick off Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor's re-election bid last year. He visited the state last month to stump for two Democrats running for Congress in his home state, including former Federal Emergency Management Agency head James Lee Witt.

Ross has criticized Hutchinson for his role in prosecuting the impeachment case against the 42nd president. Hutchinson served as one of the impeachment managers who presented the case to the U.S. Senate, which acquitted Clinton. Hutchinson has dismissed the criticism, accusing Ross of focusing on "ancient history."

With Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe unable to seek re-election because of term limits, the Arkansas governor's race is one of the most closely watched in the country. Ross faces substitute teacher Lynette Bryant in the primary. Hutchinson is running against Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman in the GOP primary.

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