by Max Brantley
Little Rock - Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter today withdrew from the the Democratic primary for Arkansas governor. Halter announced his decision this morning in an e-mail to supporters.
E-mail from Bill Halter
You're one of my most valuable supporters, so I wanted you to hear this first, and direct from me.
By a combination of work, luck, and your support, I have benefited from great opportunities. About half of my career has been spent in the private sector working with innovative companies and the other half in public service including in the White House Budget Office, as the Chief Operating Officer of Social Security, and as Lieutenant Governor. None of these opportunities could have happened without help from some of you and some of these opportunities could not have happened without help from almost all of you. I am grateful to you.
I believe that we ought to be a society where everyone has the chance to live up to their God-given potential. We can’t guarantee that everyone will succeed, but we can guarantee that everyone will have an opportunity to succeed if they work hard and they’re responsible.
That's why I entered the race for Governor of Arkansas. Our campaign plan was to advance a set of ideas to move our state forward in education while creating jobs and improving living standards — all without raising taxes and while making state government operate more efficiently. Our first proposal, The Arkansas Promise, would provide full tuition for higher education for those who earn it and builds on the great success of the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program. Thanks to the help and support of Arkansans, we passed a constitutional amendment creating the scholarship lottery that to date has provided over 100,000 scholarships totaling over $300 million without raising taxes. You have demonstrated that big improvements are possible.
But since we announced our gubernatorial campaign another strong candidate has entered the primary election and in order to avoid a divisive primary and to help unite the Democratic Party, I am ending my campaign for Governor. I congratulate Mike Ross on a great start to his campaign and I will be working hard to elect him and other Democratic nominees for office in the coming election.
While this is a disappointing outcome for our campaign today, Shanti and I choose to focus on the many positives that you have provided us for years. For example, because of your overwhelming vote in 2008, thousands of students who never considered college an option are now pursuing opportunities to achieve a better future for themselves, their families, and our entire state. Because of your compassion and energy, over 1000 volunteers came together to provide a free health clinic to Arkansans.
We have been very fortunate to have the dedication of extraordinarily talented and hard working teams both on our campaigns and while in office. They tirelessly and effectively pushed for policies and ideals to advance our state. We are profoundly grateful to the thousands of Arkansans from every part of the state who have provided encouragement and endorsed our candidacy. Over 2500 people from all 75 Arkansas counties have volunteered for our campaign. We will never forget all you have done on our behalf. I ask you to remain engaged and continue to devote your efforts to improving Arkansas and America.
Shanti and I are proud to be raising our daughters here and we’ll continue to do all we can to build a brighter future for them and for all Arkansans.
UPDATE: Spokesman Bud Jackson said the campaign will not be responding to "rampant rumors." The focus today, he said, is "on withdrawing and calling and thanking supporters." He said Halter wouldn't be granting interviews today.
To be clear: That constitutes a no-comment on whether Halter might seek another office in 2014.
Said Mike Ross in statement:
Bill Halter called me this morning and told me his decision to exit the Governor's race. I thanked him for his many years of service to the state of Arkansas, and said that I hope he continues to pursue public service. It's clear Bill loves Arkansas and cares deeply for the people of this great state.
I am honored by his kind comments in support of my candidacy for Governor. I am proud to have his support, and I welcome all of his supporters to join our campaign focused on Arkansas's future.
Holly and I send Bill, Shanti and his entire family all our best.
Money was an issue in Halter's decision, though his campaign has been largely silent for weeks. Mike Ross raised almost $2 million in his first quarter of fund-raising. Halter raised only $104,000. And he had loaned his campaign $640,000 of the $800,000 or so he had on hand for the primary. Plus, he still has
$450,000 $75,710 in personal loans outstanding from $450,000 in loans to his 2006 race for lieutenant governor. I foretold this two weeks agao.
The spin has yet to arrive, but no way this can be considered good news to the Republican Party and, specifically, Asa Hutchinson, the GOP front-runner. Republicans have madly been trying to encourage intraparty Democratic fights in hopes of firing up a liberal backlash to Ross' candidacy. No signs had emerged that any Democrats were taking hints from the Republican campaign, however. Hutchinson raised only $405,000 in the quarter and had every expectation Ross would spend up his primary treasury on defeating Halter. Not now. Plus, Hutchinson faces two primary opponents, Curtis Coleman and Debra Hobbs.
Hutchinson starts with an edge in most polls against Ross, but none show him with majority support. Moving the undecideds is often a function of money.
Hutchinson released a prepared statement, which, as quoted by Talk Business, included the obligatory misspelled name of the Democratic Party so beloved by Republicans, which he didn't even deign to capitalize:
Bill Halter’s withdrawal is just another interesting turn of events in the Democrat primary process. My focus is the message that we need to be more competitive in job creation; lower the state income tax; and more technology opportunity in education. In contrast to the Democrat candidate, I have consistently opposed Obamacare and the democrat party agenda. As the campaign progresses, the differences will become even more clear to the voters.
Halter tried unsuccessfully to woo Democratic political establishment figures to his campaign. But many of them, including some sharp critics of Ross' voting record, were persuaded by Ross' strategic ideas for grassroots candidate coordination that he was a stronger candidate. Halter also has long prompted an almost chemical reaction — a corrosive one — among many of the Democrats believed to still be influential in primary politics. It showed in his narrow loss to Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary, though he also was targeted there by conservative forces who, at the time, thought any candidate would run stronger than Lincoln would against John Boozman.
Now begins the campaign to convince the hard core Democratic left that Asa Hutchinson really would be significantly worse than Mike Ross. It is a simple fact, particularly in state politics. But I see from early comments that the kind of thinking that gave Ralph Nader election-decisive votes in Florida in 2000 lives on.
Said the Arkansas Democratic Party:
“The Democratic Party of Arkansas commends Bill Halter for his dedication and public service on behalf of Arkansans. As a successful lieutenant governor for our state, Bill Halter helped create Arkansas's scholarship lottery that has already resulted in expanded college enrollment with over 100,000 Arkansans receiving more than $300 million in scholarships without any cost to taxpayers. Previously, he also served our nation as acting commissioner for Social Security. We are thankful for his exceptional public service and expect him to remain a significant voice for working class people, our senior citizens and Arkansas Democrats.”