Columns » Max Brantley

Before the storm

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The Arkansas Times goes to press at midday Tuesday, so this week's edition had to be completed before polls closed on the Nov. 4 general election.

What follows is a grab bag of things I learned from the campaigns and hoped to see reflected in the outcomes.

• Who was it who feared Barack Obama wouldn't be tough enough to fight the time-tested Republican onslaught of opposition vote suppression, the 72-hour voter turnout effort and a bottomless barrage of attack politics? Whoever that was, I was wrong. Obama made the vaunted Republicans look like unruly nursery schoolers with his focused, relentless and thoughtful campaigning. Money? Grassroots? Advance teams? Canvassers? Technology? A ready response war room? Obama had it all, while the candidate was cool and unflappable.

• I was wrong about Obama's toughness but I wasn't wrong about Sen. Hillary Clinton. She and her supporters not only put the bitter primary loss aside, they did it with class. If Obama stayed on top election day in Pennsylvania, he gets most of the credit. But you can also thank the hordes of women wearing “Hillary Sent Me” T-shirts — my Hillaryite daughter among them — who tirelessly canvassed the working class precincts of eastern Pennyslvania to turn out a Democratic vote. Bill Clinton did his part, too, including a two-day swing in Arkansas and a joint appearance with Obama in Florida. The Clinton haters showed their self-obsession by refusing to credit that the Clintons, after their own interests, might also have a healthy concern for the public's interest.

• Voters aren't stupid. Issues CAN matter. Take the race for Pulaski County judge between incumbent Democrat Buddy Villines and Republican Phil Wyrick. Who'd have thought that watershed management would be a leading issue — if not THE leading issue — in a race for a little understood administrative office? The issue might not prove decisive, but it was important enough to force candidates to take a stand. And the results prompted some diehard liberals to endorse a Republican.

• Little Rock must — MUST — move to a mayor-council government, or at least ward election of all city board members. Gene Fortson reneged on not seeking election to the seat in which he filled an unexpired term. His candidacy proved again that money and old-boys-club politics create simply too high a mountain for serious challengers to climb when it comes to contesting at-large City Board seats.

• Gov. Mike Beebe is a formidable fund-raiser and politician. He demonstrated both the willingness and ability to use his clout in behalf of legislative candidates. Mike Huckabee was too self-obsessed to play this game well. That's part of the reason whyBeebe has achieved far more with the legislature in two years than Huckabee did in 10. But, for all this, there is a limit to Democratic Party domination of Arkansas. At press time, just about everybody predicted at least a small net gain for Republicans in the House.

• Finally, I hope to be able to write more next week about the influence of the conservative religious lobby. Indications are that it will not prove to be as influential as it wants legislators to believe. This could have important ramifications in the 2009 legislative session and beyond, not just in the outcome of a couple of measures on Tuesday's ballot.

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