Columns » Max Brantley

A good week for Mike Ross

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I said two weeks ago that fund-raising told the story of the Democratic primary race for governor.

Former Congressman Mike Ross reported he'd raised almost $2 million. Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter raised about $100,000, and save a cluster of gifts from the Bailey family who worked with him on the Arkansas Lottery, precious little came from Arkansas. Plus, Halter himself had loaned his campaign $640,000, or the majority, of the money he had on hand.

Halter had been quiet for weeks as national Democrats lobbied him to clear the gubernatorial primary field for Ross and run instead for 2nd District Congress against Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin.

National Democratic sources say they are very happy with Halter's decision to drop out and believe national money would follow him into a race for Congress. At this writing, he's not let his future plans be known. He might prefer a race for Senate against John Boozman in 2016. But so, too, might Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, taking a political redshirt year this year after a personal sexual scandal upended his planned race for governor.

I'd counsel anyone against putting off for two years what they can do today. The Democratic scenario making the rounds that Hillary Clinton will be the party's presidential nominee in 2016 and sweep Democrats at every level to victory in Arkansas is flawed in many ways. I'd begin simply with a reminder of Hillary's sure-thing nomination as the party's presidential candidate in 2008.

The 2014 race is critical for Democrats. The race for partisan control of the state House is the most important race on the ballot. It's more important than extremist Republican Rep. Tom Cotton's challenge of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor. Control of the Senate is a legitimate national issue, but day-to-day matters in a gridlocked Congress aren't so vital. Of course, there is the fact that Cotton might vote against disaster aid for the state the next time a tornado hit.

The state House is just as important as the likely matchup between Ross, now unopposed for the Democratic nomination, and Asa Hutchinson, who still has a couple of Republicans to deal with in the primary. Arkansas's governor can only do so much. As the last session proved, even the ablest of government technocrats, Mike Beebe, was limited in dealing with a majority Republican legislature. A simple majority overrides vetoes, after all.

Democrats have a shot at retaking the House, where Republicans eked out 51 of 100 seats. But they need money, an organization and candidates. Ross appeals to strategically minded Democrats — if not always on philosophical grounds — because he's raising a lot of money; he's working on recruitment and he understands a coordinated campaign from the legislative district up helps all Democrats.

Lose the House again in 2014 and Republicans solidify gains, plus promote party switches, as has happened elsewhere in Dixie.

Democratic victory requires unity and goodwill among a group not much known for either. Already, the diehard liberals say they'll never vote for Mike Ross given his resistance to Obamacare (Republicans are nonetheless still salivating to tag him with it on a committee vote), and his conservative position on abortion, gay rights and guns.

We've been down this road before. Remember Florida in 2000. Al Gore really won Florida, but in the only count that mattered, Ralph Nader votes likely cost Gore Florida and the U.S. election.

In Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson starts with a good 45 percent of the vote despite being a three-time statewide election loser. If disaffected Democrats go Green, Libertarian or don't show, that could be enough to win.

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