"Our field is set and now comes the real battle," said Will Bond, chair of the Arkansas Democratic Party, in a news release e-mailed in the final minutes of run-off Tuesday, returns from a dozen second primaries tabulated and their certification all but certain.
“Our field is set and now comes the real battle,” said Will Bond, chair of the Arkansas Democratic Party, in a news release e-mailed in the final minutes of run-off Tuesday, returns from a dozen second primaries tabulated and their certification all but certain.
How certain the size of the battle? How real? Some musings:
It is frequently mentioned that this year’s November ballot contains no statewide races. I would amend that observation, substantially: Barack Obama is on the ballot, in all 75 counties, and the certainty of re-nomination plainly steered many prospective Democratic candidates from entering the Arkansas competition for state and federal legislative seats. At the congressional level, former State Rep. Herb Rule of Little Rock, a longtime presence in the Arkansas legal community for his recently-resigned partnership in the Rose Law Firm, was the sole Democrat to challenge first-term Republican incumbent Tim Griffin. The beneficiary of (a) the 2010 Arkansas revolt against Mr. Obama, which saw GOP candidates benefit from the sort of straight-ticket voting that for a century routinely swept Democratic nominees into office and (b) the disinterest of many nominal Democrats to the candidacy of his African-American opponents, Griffin has cash aplenty: his latest campaign finance report (in early May) reported raising $1.2 million raised and half of it still unspent. Griffin will collect more, and if he needs still more, will get it. And that does not include “independent” expenditures that will be made in his behalf should polls indicate Rule poses a meaningful threat (and perhaps even if Rule fizzles; you can never be too sure in politics).
Rule has reported $10,000 in contributions, half of it from his own wallet.
Such is the autumn scenario likely to unfold in the two other Arkansas congressional districts in which Democratic candidates are viewed by national Republican organizations as something more than mere nuisances. (With due respect to Ken Aden, flying the party’s flag a la Rule in northwest Arkansas’s Third District, the re-election of Steve Womack is a sun-rises-in-the-east probability). Conservatives, anxious to preserve their House majority and their accounts bulging with cash, will flood the zones. All the Democratic contenders combined raised, through May, about the amount Griffin, unopposed in the GOP primary, already has spent, and a sliver of the dough required for a vigorous general election campaign. Democrats are not aided by the out-migration that has compelled successive Boards of Apportionment to steadily add territory to the First and Fourth Districts, once Delta and south Arkansas party preserves that now include vote-rich, reliably Republican counties. Both districts were big and now they are bigger, more expensive to work and more challenging in terms of local organization and messaging. In choosing Jonesboro prosecutor Scott Ellington to take on Republican Rick Crawford, First District Democrats have tapped into the incumbent’s home base and, they presume, his geo-support. To what extent will, can, Ellington distance himself from the top of the ticket? What matters more, farm bills, Obamacare, deficit-debt? A prosecutor who agreed to freedom for the West Memphis Three is paired against a social program skeptic who campaigned against earmarks but then decided they weren’t so bad.
The Fourth District, especially, intrigues. With only a few thousand dollars, little more than pocket change, State Sen. Gene Jeffress easily defeated the comparatively flush Hot Springs attorney Q. Byrum Hurst, Jr. Yes, Jeffress and brother Jimmy, both veterans of the General Assembly, had some free name identification going in. And candidate Gene was assisted by a number of local races in southeast Arkansas that kept voters in the Democratic primary. Hurst had negative publicity about sanctions against his law practice. But Jeffress’s 62 percent majority suggests a gift for retail politics that GOP nominee Tom Cotton has yet to demonstrate. Politics today, however, is a wholesale business. Television (over-the-air and cable) is crucial. It takes money to buy it. Hundreds of thousands. Jeffress doesn’t have it, at least not yet, and Cotton has collected nearly a million bucks in individual contributions and has half of it on ice. And it’s only June.
We would all like to believe politics still has the capacity to surprise, and in fact it does. But increasingly the surprises revolve around the campaign finance reports the candidates must file. Not a happy commentary on our republic, not if one looks beyond November and considers the stakes that are supposed to be larger than the next election, and more important than any party, any candidate.
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Steve Barnes is host of Arkansas Week on AETN.