Columns » John Brummett

Arkansas in national vanguard

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Arkansas leads the national discussion about Democrats’ reportedly good prospects to win enough governorships in November to hold more than half of them.

Of course, that might simply be alphabetical.

Both elite East Coast papers — the New York Times and the Washington Post — did takeouts on the subject over the weekend in conjunction with the National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

The pieces shared the theme that Democrats appear positioned to make sufficient gains in the 34 contested governor’s races to overcome the 28-22 Republican advantage.

Conventional wisdom is that this could signal a significant shift in the national mood and portend for 2008.

When the articles got down to the crux, meaning the identification of three or four states where a Democrat stood a better-than-even chance to replace a Republican, Arkansas topped the list.

Attorney General Mike Beebe, the favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, got his picture published in the New York Times to illustrate the matter.

Howard Dean, chairman of the national Democratic Party, was quoted as saying that if he had anything to do with it, these governor’s races would be part of a nationalized election amounting to a referendum on Republican control.

Arkansas Democrats had best hope Dean has nothing to do with it. They likely will do everything they can to make sure that their fiery national chairman spends only flyover time in Arkansas between now and November.

Democrats win in Arkansas by personal popularity, economic populism, cultural conservatism and an independent-mindedness that appeals to white rural voters. They lose if they throw in with Dean, Kennedy and Kerry.

Partisan divides overlap in Arkansas like Olympic rings. We split our tickets, sometimes two and three times. Our internal divisions tend to be racial, geographic and topographic, mostly metropolitan against rural, northwest against central and flat against mountainous.

Gov. Mike Huckabee can’t succeed himself and apparently is dead serious about running for president. He put on a little feed for journalists the other day in Washington. You don’t do that kind of thing for your health, even if health is your admirable obsession.

Huckabee is quoted as saying Arkansas lingers as a Democratic state where the Republicans can keep the governorship, but only at great challenge.

One of the pieces suggested that Huckabee’s presidential prospects might be boosted if he could help elect a Republican successor at home, as Mark Warner boosted his prospects on the Democratic side by helping elect a successor of his party in Virginia last year.

It was a pointless suggestion, offered without knowledge of our eccentricity. Political coattails do not exist in Arkansas. Bill Clinton can’t seem to win for anyone else here, a fact Hillary might keep in mind. As for Huckabee, consider that 127,000 Arkansas voted for him for governor in 2002, but against his own wife for secretary of state.

Regarding the Beebe-Bill Halter race to determine which would lead this November insurgence, most people assume that Beebe will win. So far, enthusiasm for Halter’s candidacy has been limited to Republicans. It’s apparently begun to frustrate them that Halter hasn’t turned mean against Beebe to soften the attorney general for November.

The Republicans will get their wish soon enough. Halter hasn’t put all that personal cash into his campaign merely to lie down. It’s not yet time for TV ads.

But I have an idea that Beebe’s nomination is such a predetermined inevitability among victory-starved Arkansas Democrats that Halter’s attacks would serve mostly to increase Beebe’s name identification, rapid-response skills and resilience for the general election battle with Asa Hutchinson.

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