Thank You, Arkansas

  Hey!  I am going to admit this on a conservative, Republican website.  The only time I ever voted for a Democratic nominee for President, he hailed from Arkansas!  That man was Bill Clinton.  And leaving aside his sexual escapades, from a personal standpoint I really don’t and didn’t care about that stuff (it was between him and Hillary although I thought he could have done much better than Monica Lewinsky) and I did rather well with him in the White House.  This was also the state that gave us Mike Huckabee.  At the very least, one could say that Arkansas is all over the political map.  But they would be wrong!  This state, despite having a Democratic Governor, two Democratic Senators and three of four Representatives, is not a bastion of Democratic Party domination.  And except in the case of the Governor’s race this year, that is about to be proven.

     In the aforementioned Governor’s race, the popular incumbent Democrat Mike Beebe should defeat his Republican challenger Jim Keet.  In fact, RCP has Beebe up by 17 points in the poll averages.  Should this race turn, it would conceivably and arguably be the biggest upset this year in all the races for Governor.  However, I believe it safe to say that Beebe will win.  I will even go so far as to state that Beebe will take on a greater leadership role among Democratic Governors after his victory and will be yet another former Arkansas Governor to be mentioned as a Presidential prospect in 2014 to run in 2016.

     The Senate race is where Arkansas voters will show their true colors…and they aren’t blue!  Third District Congressman John Boozman is taking on incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln.  While Boozman coasted to victory in his party’s primary, Lincoln faced a tough challenge from Bill Halter who forced a run-off.  The Democratic primary was important in this election cycle given the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party and especially Barack Obama and their railing against outside money in campaigns in light of the Citizen’s United decision.  Labor unions piled the money on Halter in an attempt to oust Lincoln given her stances on Obamacare and Card Check legislation.  It presented the voters of Arkansas with a clear-cut choice between an self-proclaimed Democratic moderate in Lincoln against a hard core liberal in Halter.  Although Democratic turn out was greater than that of Republicans in Arkansas for the primaries, that was due to the competitive nature of the Democratic race.  Even in the run off, Lincoln was not overwhelming eeking out a 52-48% victory.  Clearly she was damaged goods entering the general election. 

     And in fact, Lincoln is all but out of Washington.  John Boozman has built up such an insurmountable lead that he basically has to do very little to win election.  The most recent poll has him up by 18 points while the 9-month average of polls has him up by 22+ points.  Despite Lincoln’s attempts of late to cast herself as a bipartisan Democratic moderate and power broker, it is too little too late.  She also does not have the backing of traditional Democratic voting blocs having burnt those bridges in the primary race against Halter, not to mention her expenditures just to get to this point.  Hence, John Boozman WILL be the next Senator from Arkansas and Lincoln can retire to her home state.

     Of the four Congressional districts in Arkansas, three are held by Democrats.  In the lone Republican district, being vacated by Boozman (the Third), the district is considered heavily Republican and Steve Womack should defeat Democratic challenger David Whittaker.  In the most recent polling data, Womack leads by an insurmountable 19 points and exceeds the coveted 50% threshold.  Additionally, this district has been in Republican hands since 1967.  So, the Republican Party will safely defend this seat while playing offense elsewhere in the state.

     In the First District, incumbent Democrat Marion Berry is retiring.  Although the district has been in Democratic hands since 1875 (with a brief one-term Labor Party Congressman in the late 1800s), this district is ripe for the taking and should Republican Rick Crawford prevail over Chad Causey, it will put an exclamation point on Republican gains in the House.  What did Berry in was his vote for the stimulus and TARP (although he voted against Obamacare) and the general anti-incumbent sentiment that has not spared Arkansas.  Plus, the looming landslide victory of Boozman over Lincoln (Lincoln represented this District before Berry) all spelled retirement.  Currently, Crawford holds about a 10-point average lead in the polls and has led in all polls thus far by no less than 7 points. 

     Democratic incumbent Vic Snyder is retiring in the 2nd District opening the way for another Republican pick-up in the state.  However, this district, which features Republican Tim Griffin facing off against Joyce Elliot, on paper appears a little more difficult to win given its urban nature (it includes Little Rock) and its concentration of black voters.  Although going for McCain in 2008 by ten points, its support for Republican presidential candidates has been tepid at best.  Bush won in 2000 by one point and by three in 2004.  One can consider the 10-point victory for McCain as a sign of things to come because despite the district being almost 20% black, the white guy won by double digits.  Snyder decided to retire after Griffin announced his intentions to run against him in 2009 and initial polling showed Griffin with a 17 point lead.  Nothing has really changed as Griffin leads Causey by an average of 17 points also in polling.  Hence, although more difficult to capture given the demographics of the district, Democratic days are numbered in the 2nd District in 2010.  And I failed to mention that Snyder’s fairly liberal voting record in the House representing a fairly conservative state did not help his chances.

     It is only in the 4th District where the Democratic Party in Arkansas can take heart.  But even here, the southern part of the state, with the largest concentration of blacks which will help any Democratic candidate, the Democrat must be conservative and, in fact, Mike Ross, the incumbent, is a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition.  It was his positions in committee that held up the original Obamacare legislation forcing concessions from the more liberal members of Congress.  Plus, he eventually voted against the measure.  Although the district voted for Gore in 2000 (barely), they were solidly for Bush in 2004 and even more so for McCain in 2008.  Recent polling puts Ross up by about 18 points over Republican challenger Beth Rankin (yes, Howard Dean, there are women in the Republican Party).  Given the trends here nationally or even statewide, it would appear that Ross is safe to retain his seat and maintains an aura of moderation, if not conservatism, which should be enough to keep him in office.  In practical terms, given the main concerns of voters this year, this is a Democratic victory that the GOP can live with in 2010.  How long this district remains in Democratic control remains to be seen as Ross is considered a very viable candidate to succeed Mike Beebe in 2014.  Republicans may just have until then to take this district.

      The preconception of Arkansas from where I sit in New Jersey is that of a scene from “Deliverance.”  However, upon researching politics in the state, I am left with the conclusion that in reality, the voters of Arkansas are more sophisticated than most others.  There seems to be less of that knee-jerk voting that occurs in other states, especially among minority groups in large urban areas in the north.  In effect, they seem to vote for the person, not the party’s letter after their name.  I am left with the conclusion that Arkansas is a bellweather state for prognostication in the future as concerns the 2012 Senate and Presidential races and even beyond 2012.  Many pundits point to states like Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio, or mostly Missouri.  I am going to look a little further south to Arkansas in the future.