Columns » John Brummett

The race for attorney general

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Roby Brock, colleague of "Talk Business" fame, was telling me the other day about moderating a debate a couple of weeks ago among the three young Democratic candidates for attorney general.

The format included a lightning round. Brock asked rapid-fire questions in search of rapid-fire answers. For example, he asked the candidates to name their favorite Democrat. Then he asked them to name their favorite Republican.

Paul Suskie, city attorney in North Little Rock, said that his favorite Republican was John McCain.

Robert Herzfeld, prosecuting attorney in Saline County, said nothing for several seconds. Then, amid tears and with voice breaking, he said, "I wasn't ready for this." Herzfeld finally managed to get out that his favorite Republican was his father, Bob Sr., who died a couple of years ago in a freak chain saw accident.

Then state Rep. Dustin McDaniel of Jonesboro said, "George W. Bush, because he's creating more Democrats every day."

That is offered as a potentially valuable vignette for voters wholly at sea in trying to distinguish among these three 30-somethings, one of whom probably will emerge as the state's leading Democrat of the new generation.

The answers help reveal the young men.

Suskie's answer was steady, predictable, logical and safe. If you must reveal to other Democrats which Republican you like best, you could hardly go wrong in citing the moderate maverick and war hero known for straight talk.

Like his answer, Suskie is the steadiest, safest and most logical of the hopefuls. The National Guard veteran of Afghanistan may not inspire, but nor does he irritate.

McDaniel's answer, if I may jump to it ahead of Herzfeld's, was, frankly, the slickest. He used the query to make an ingratiating partisan statement.

Similarly, he seems the slickest politician. Remember that he was the one plastering his love of guns and hunting on billboards months ago. Remember that he calls himself the candidate who would protect families, which is code for a cultural conservatism that he believes it is necessary to convey to rural and conservative Democrats.

Herzfeld's answer revealed an honest, human and emotional side. Thus it filled out the caricature of a grandstanding headline-grabber that had arisen from Herzfeld's high-profile undertakings as prosecuting attorney, including his well-publicized challenge to Gov. Mike Huckabee's liberal commutation and clemency practices.

Herzfeld clearly loved and missed a father with whom he'd parted ways politically.

You might hold suspicions that Herzfeld became a Democrat for electoral convenience. But there's little to no Democratic advantage anymore in suburban Saline County, which, I'd remind you, voted for Jim Holt over Blanche Lincoln in 2004.

"At first I thought he couldn't think of anybody," Suskie told me in reference to Herzfeld's delayed and choking response. "But then I saw what was happening. I found it very moving. It put things in perspective."

This race will have little to do with issues. All three candidates are sufficiently bright and competent. McDaniel talks about his prescription drug bill. Herzfeld emphasizes his Saline County drug courts and his resistance to Huckabee's commutations. Suskie talks about shutting down drug houses and standing up for Entergy ratepayers in the battle with Louisiana over power plant allocations. All are reasonable topics.

But, in the end, the choice will be, as always, personal. For my part, I'm leaning to Suskie while reopening my mind to Herzfeld.

That surely means McDaniel will win without a runoff.

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