Thursday, August 03, 2006

Arkansas Governor Race

Race of the Day

August 3, 2006
96 Days until Election Day

Arkansas Governor

Status: Republican Open
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (D)

Amidst the sea of a solid Republican south, Arkansas is a rare state where Democrats have remained extremely competitive. Republican Mike Huckabee is serving a third term as Governor, having been elected twice, is popular, and a likely Presidential contender, but Arkansas Democrats continue to dominate the legislature and most other statewide offices, both U.S.Senate seats, and three out of four Congressional seats. Based on these factors, Arkansas Democrats have to believe they havea very good shot at regaining the Mansion once occupied by Bill and Hillary Clinton. Nonetheless, the Republican nominee is a strong contender and could be in a race that will go down to the wire as he will seek to convince the voters that he is best equipped to continue the Huckabee legacy.

The Democrat nominee is Attorney General Mike Beebe who has the important experience of having been elected statewide four years ago, although it was in an unopposed race. The Republican candidate is Asa Hutchinson, who has served in a variety of posts, including most recently as the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.

The polls on the Beebe vs. Hutchinson match up had been all over the place through the early part of the year, but eventually Beebe had opened up a double digit lead and some speculated that the race would be an easy Democrat pickup. However, the most recent Rasmussen Reports shows Hutchinson making a bit of modest comeback, now only trailing 47-40.

Through the remainder of the campaign, Beebe will attempt to score points against Hutchinson by talking about the Republican's role as one of the House Impeachment Managers against Bill Clinton in 1999. The thinking is that Clinton remains more popular in his native state than he certainly would be elsewhere in the South. Hutchinson will run on traditional conservative themes and try to show that he is a better fit for the state. He had been a rising state and national figure in the GOP after losing a long shot U.S.Senate bid twenty years ago but he hails from the one traditionally Republican part of the state and will need to make inroads with traditional Democrats, who do happen to be conservative minded folks at least.

Hutchinson will also have to contend with the task of staking out his own identity. He succeeded his older brother Tim in the Houseof Representatives after Tim was elected to the U.S. Senate. The elder Hutchinson, also a Baptist pastor, was defeated for reelection after one term in the Senate due in large part to a divorce from his long-time wife and quickie remarriage to a younger staffer. That component led many of Tim Hutchinson's religious conservative supporters to take a pass on the race and he wound up being the only GOP incumbent Senator to lose in 2002. Asa will have to make sure that there is no confusion over the fact that he is his own man and his own long-term marriage has not faced any scandal.

Arkansas is both a conservative state and a traditionally Democratstate. It is a state with a popular GOP Governor but an overallrecent history that besides at the Presidential level has favored Democrats. Very few people will be surprised if Beebe manages to find a way to put the race away without too much drama. However, in light of evidence that the race has now started to become more competitive, this might very well have the makings of a true tossup race that would be nip and tuck until the end.

At this time, based primarily on recent polls, and the political history of the state, and what conventional political wisdom would seem to dictate about the political party of the President in a sixth year midterm, a slight edge has to go to Beebe for a Democrat pickup. If the election were held today, he would win. However, there are several weeks until the election and things could change quite easily.

For example, Beebe might have an unfortunate public toupee accident or Hutchinson will find a way to capitalize on his natural political skills and charisma to win a come from behind victory. In a close race, the presence of a Green Party candidate might even be enough to give the election to Hutchinson by a few thousand votes or less.

As of this day though, one has to assume that Beebe will have an overall slightly easier task.

Hutchinson campaign link:

(Note to Ron Gunzburger: please update the Arkansas page with this correct link)

2006 Governor races predicted thus far: 2 D, 2 R

List of post-election Governors predicted thus far: 10 D, 8 R