Columns » John Brummett

Ross is running, but I repeat myself


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I will tell you two things I know about Mike Ross.

One is that he is running for governor in 2014, information I've gleaned from him, albeit in a cryptic way.

"I think you know what I'm planning on doing in 2014," he has said more than once in conversations about the politics of something or other.

If you don't believe him or me, talk to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, with whom Ross likely will tangle in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

If not otherwise busy bragging in a public service spot about fighting internet child predators with money from lawsuit settlements to which he gets to help himself, McDaniel would tell you about people telling him that Ross has been going around saying tacky things about him.

Dustin might even give you some vice versa, some tit for tat, on that.

The second thing I can tell you about Ross is that whatever he is saying or doing is politically calculated. This is approximately the most thorough political animal I know.

More than one liberal Democrat in Ross' Fourth District of southern Arkansas — and there is more than one, if just that — can relate that Ross has looked them in the eye and told them they could rail against his Blue-Dog conservatism all they wanted, but that he knew full well how to get elected in the part of the world he represented.

Back when he first ran for Congress, I was casting him as a bit of a lightweight, based on the fact that I first knew him as a bright-eyed kid driving around Bill Clinton and later knew him as a garden-variety state senator doing mostly what Mike Beebe told him, which was generally all right.

My view changed one summer day as Ross and I rode back from the Hope Watermelon Festival to Ross' campaign headquarters in Prescott, and as Ross began to analyze the cross-tabular data of his latest polling. This was poll savvy of obsessive proportion and near-Clintonian insight.

When Ross got up Saturday night at the state Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner and railed against those no-account Republicans in Washington, it meant one thing and one thing alone: He has sized up the emergence of a new two-party Arkansas and determined that it all tends to make a Democratic primary — like the one he'll have with McDaniel in 2014 — more a partisan contest than the general one tantamount to election that it used to be.

Then when Ross called a news conference Monday morning to announce he will not seek congressional re-election next year, it meant one thing and one thing only: Running once more for Congress and serving one more term in Washington would not well serve his gubernatorial campaign of 2014.

For one thing, big corporate Republican money already had been pledged to beat him up via attack ads over the next several months, threatening damage that could be residual.

For another, loitering around as a minority Democratic congressman in Washington in 2013-14 — as part of a dysfunctional system and as a subject of Nancy Pelosi's standard liberal orthodoxy — is no way to be running for governor of Arkansas.

The broader question now is whether Ross's departure makes it likely that the Fourth District will now join the rest of the state in making the final transition from Republican in disguise to real Republican.

I would remind you the Fourth District did that long ago, with Jay Dickey.

To win, a Democrat will need to be as good a politician as Ross. I can't identify such a Democrat at present.

At this point I'd give tea party pageanteer Beth Anne Rankin, the Sarah Palin wannabe of Arkansas, a decent shot.


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