Columns » Max Brantley

They're off

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Election filing concluded Monday for Democrats and Republicans and judicial candidates, 338 all told.

The filings were well short of a record (over 420 in both 1998 and 2002) and I wonder if primary voter turnout will also be less than expected. There are undeniable pockets of fervid political interest — mostly of the throw-the-bums-out variety — but cynicism about the system and lack of an electrifying electoral figure could just as easily depress overall turnout. Black voters, particularly, seem uninspired this year from what I hear.

Some gleanings from the filing:

Contested Republican primaries for every federal office are barometers of the Tea Party spirit and that niche's perception of a weakness in anti-Obama Arkansas on the part of anyone labeled Democratic. Even Rep. Mike Ross of Prescott, who's careful never to take a step contrary to presumed Arkansas political wisdom (however unwise or how wrong the presumption might be), drew two would-be Republican challengers.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln apparently looks less vulnerable to Democrats than Republicans, drawing only Bill Halter as a primary opponent while eight Republicans want a crack at her. Is that a clue that conventional Democratic primary voters are, on balance, willing to stick with Lincoln? If so, and she wins the primary, it will improve her standing for the general election. There, if her prayers were to be answered, she'd face extremist Jim Holt or colorless and obstructionist U.S. Rep. John Boozman.

Will this be the year for a turn of tide in the Arkansas legislature? The 35-member Senate currently has eight Republicans. All eight of those seats will remain in Republican hands. Additionally, Republicans are challenging Democrats for seven open seats currently held by Democrats, at least three of them in districts with strong Republican constituencies. A jump of GOP senators from eight to 11 or up to 15 would create a dramatic new legislative dynamic. The 100-member House had 24 Republicans when it convened in 2009. At the close of filing, there were 42 unopposed Democrats and 23 unopposed Republicans. Democrats will win a majority of the 35 contested seats, but it's hard to imagine they won't lose ground, probably a substantial amount, and with it the vital three-fourths voting majority on spending bills. Superior Republican recruiting is at work here.

There are two contested races for seats on the Arkansas Supreme Court, both vacant on account of retirements. These could be expensive contests. Voters will want to watch carefully where the money comes from. Lawyers have always been the primary source of judicial campaign cash, but there are lawyers and there are lawyers. Judge contributors by their work on such important issues as financial regulation, workers compensation and medical malpractice.

The most dominant politicians in Arkansas? No, not Gov. Mike Beebe. He has a Republican opponent, former Little Rock senator Jim Keet. The untouchables are Charlie Daniels, unopposed for his run for a third statewide office (auditor this time), Treasurer Martha Shoffner and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.

Could McDaniel's breeze to re-election prove to be the most meaningful event for future Arkansas politics? Does it make him the foregone conclusion as Democratic nominee for governor in 2014 or would an easy win over token opposition have been better? It certainly means he has four years to luxuriate in a job that allows him to file feel-good lawsuits, travel the state under official auspices and avoid the vexing business of declaring himself on hot-button legislation. He'll find time, too, I'll wager, to do more work to curry favor with the gun lobby.

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