Friday, August 01, 2014

Race of the Day- Arkansas Governor

95 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

For years after Republicans began to dominate most of the South, Arkansas remained quite willing to elect Democrats to statewide office and to Congress. While the state had become firmly red in Presidential elections, Democrats won several key races the past decade, especially in 2006 when Democrat Mike Beebe won the Governorship, to take over for the term-limited Republican.

Now Beebe is term-limited, and with Republicans having made further inroads in the state, since Barack Obama's election, things look ripe for the GOP to win the traditionally Democrat-held Governorship. While Bebee, a conservative Democrat by national standards remains fairly popular in his state, the D next to the name of candidates on the ballot has started to become more of a burden statewide after 2010.

Nonetheless, the Democrat bench in Arkansas was considered fairly strong. The expected candidate for Governor was Dustin McDaniel, the Attorney General, considered a rising political star. Faced with a sex scandal though, McDaniel dropped out of the race for Governor early on, and is now going to be leaving office altogether after this year. Times sure have changed regarding those kinds of indiscretions since another Democrat Attorney General of Arkansas went on to become Governor.

Previously, the party had looked to Congressman Mike Ross as a strong candidate for Governor and when he declined to seek reelection to the U.S. House, it seemed he was planning to run. However, he had disappointed many by saying he would not run in 2014. That was before McDaniel's implosion though, and eventually Ross changed course and jumped into the race. Democrats felt very relieved to have attracted a strong candidate, and even better after former Lt. Governor Bill Halter, a more populist Democrat, ended his bid and endorsed Ross. The former Congressman, who had started his political career by driving Bill Clinton around the state, is considered a Blue Dog Democrat who would be electable in the state. He easily captured the nomination in a May primary.

The Republican primary was slightly more contested, but also a blow out in favor of Asa Hutchinson. Hailing from the most traditionally GOP part of the state, Asa and his older brother Tim had been at the forefront of the Arkansas Republican Party for many years. He lost races for U.S. Senate and Attorney General in 1986 and 1990, but would go on to be elected to Congress in 1996, succeeding his brother, who was elected to the Senate. After George W. Bush was elected President, Asa resigned from Congress to serve in the Administration, but he returned to Arkansas to run for Governor in 2006, and lost to Bebee. Now, with Bebee, who cruised to a second term in 2010, leaving office, the 63 year old Hutchinson is finally hoping to be elected statewide, 28 years after his first try.

So much attention is being paid this year to the U.S. Senate contest in Arkansas, and the open Gubernatorial contest is perhaps somewhat of a lower profile undercard match. While the race for Governor is competitive, most expect that Hutchinson, running in an open race, should run at least a couple points ahead of the GOP Senate candidate, who is facing a Democrat incumbent. A split decision in those two races are possible, but if Hutchinson, it is probably unlikely that Republicans somehow win the Senate seat.

Ross is perhaps the strongest possible candidate the Democrats could have recruited for this race, but 2014 just may be too much of a Republican year in Arkansas. Ross will have to answer for some of his Congressional votes, some of which may be used to paint him to far to the left, while others cast by the Blue Dog might motivate some liberal voters in the state to cast a protest vote for the Green Party. Democrats will try to sully Hutchinson by saying he improperly took a tax credit on a home and is ethically troubled.

Polls thus far have mostly showed a close race, but in the past month or so, Hutchinson seems to have moved a few points ahead of Ross. If nothing major develops in this race, the Republican will probably pull off a hard fought victory, perhaps in the high single digits. Arkansas used to be an electoral firewall for Democrats, but times have changed. Not even Bill or Hillary Clinton, and any campaigning they may do in their former state, might be enough to pull Ross across the finish line. The state, in this cycle, might be more in line with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who are backing Hutchinson.

Hutchinson campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 0D, 4 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 7 D, 11 R (net Republican gain of 1)