Columns » John Brummett

That Pryor-Halter thing

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This will be more interesting than significant. Bill Halter is not going to beat Mark Pryor in a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.

But the thing is that he won’t say he won’t run. Meantime, he and Pryor keep exchanging slights or perceptions thereof.

It started on state inauguration day in January. Pryor issued a statement from Washington congratulating all his Democratic friends who had ascended anew to statewide constitutional office. He mentioned Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Treasurer Martha Shoffner.

Halter, who had been sworn in as lieutenant governor that day, and was a Democrat, and still is, didn’t merit a mention by Pryor. That remained the case even on Pryor’s corrected release to repair the misspelling of Shoffner. The conspicuousness screamed.

I called Pryor’s office and got a mea culpa from Michael Teague, the senator’s communications director. He said he’d merely worked too fast and fallen sloppy and that Halter’s omission had been an innocent oversight.

Lieutenant governor is forgettable, yes. But it ought to have been as easy to remember as treasurer.

Pryor’s office sent out a third statement, finally congratulating Halter, too.

Fast-forward to Saturday night: There was a big fundraiser for Pryor. He’s up for a second six-year term in 2008 and there’s talk that Mike Huckabee might give up the presidential pipe dream and come home to mount the Republican challenge. The Democratic establishment wants to fortify the incumbent.

Practically every Democrat who is anybody signed on as a co-sponsor of the event. It was a collegial courtesy and party obligation. Except, as it happened, Halter wasn’t listed.

He said he would be unavoidably engaged otherwise and that he had a personal rule not to let himself get listed as a host for anything he didn’t actually attend.

That’s strange. Nobody cares who actually attends such things. What people care about are donations, collegial courtesies and partisan obligations.

Given ample opportunity by at least three members of the press to say he won’t run against Pryor in 2008, Halter has not been able to say it.

So what do you make of that?

Here’s what I make of it: Obviously, Halter didn’t invest those hundreds of thousands in personal dollars merely for the nothing office of lieutenant governor. He started out wanting to be governor and we can probably assume he wouldn’t mind being a U.S. senator.

Here’s what else I think: Halter may as well forget it. Pryor is widely known and well-liked, and Halter is, at present, neither.

He barreled back to the state and spent his way into the office of lieutenant governor, irritating less-rich and dues-paying aspirants in the Democratic establishment. I’m not sure Halter isn’t a worthy young political talent and valuable Democratic farm club prospect. But I am sure that my assessment is not universally shared.

Here’s the third thing I think: The only way to run against Pryor in a Democratic primary is on his expansive left flank, and there aren’t enough left-flank voters in Arkansas to win anything except board president of the American Civil Liberties Union. Like it or not, if you want Democrats elected in Arkansas, they’ll have to be of the Pryor/Beebe mold.

By the way, state law permits a state constitutional officer to seek federal office in the middle of his state term and, upon crushing defeat, return to the state office as if nothing had happened.

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