Here at Talk Business & Politics we compiled a helpful list of potential 2012 State Senate candidates for our readers. We created the list by visiting with political contacts across the state, talking to candidates directly and listening to the speculation promoted by political insiders.
Currently, the State Senate has 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans and due to terms limits there are 11 open seats next year. With that many open seats, the fight to control the State Senate will be extremely intense, and, in the end, I predict it will be very close once the election results roll in next year.
Before we discuss 2012, however, let’s briefly review the 2010 election on the local level.
Unfortunately, last year Arkansas Democrats failed miserably to help their legislative candidates in their various campaigns. There is no one person or organization to blame because the failure was so catastrophic, so widespread, there is plenty of blame to go around.
2010 Democratic legislative candidates received little to no help from the State Party or the Democratic House and Senate Caucuses. The entire Party structure seemed to be focused solely on re-electing Governor Beebe – a very worthy endeavor mind you – and electing federal candidates, some of whom were dead in the water. Further, the Democratic nominees for Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Land Commissioner received very limited help.
Democratic candidates for the Legislature received some financial contributions from the DPA and their respective caucuses, but the total amounts essentially equaled a return of their filing fees. In addition, while some candidates benefited from direct mail pieces done on their behalf, they were cookie-cutter, "feel good" pieces that had no impact on the races. Talking with numerous 2010 legislative candidates revealed they received no issue polling, message coordination, or field organizing and often felt they were on their own.
Meanwhile, Republicans were well-coordinated and had nebulous outside groups spending tens of thousands of dollars attacking Democratic legislative candidates and providing some of the weapons that Democrats lacked.
It’s nine months later and I’m still angry that Arkansas Democrats failed so dramatically on the organizational and messaging level. Granted, the national tidal wave that swept through Arkansas had a major impact on local races, but Arkansas Democrats were caught flat-footed and unprepared.
Though in the defense of Arkansas Democrats, base turnout was up in many parts of the state and they made a concentrated effort to turn out Presidential voters in a mid-term election which did help some candidates in close races.
However, that was 2010 and it’s time to learn from past mistakes and prepare for the 2012 elections. For 2012, Arkansas Democrats must have a well-funded and coordinated effort to protect their majorities in the State House and Senate. We’re already seeing activity from Republicans – just witness Sen. John Boozman’s and Rep. Tim Griffin’s new PACs, which have the express purpose of helping federal and state legislative candidates.
To control the State Senate, one Party must have a minimum of 18 seats and with eleven open seats next year, no race can be taken for granted.
Here are my top five Senate races to watch at this juncture and they are all open seats:
District 6 - Open. Potential candidates: John Paul Wells – D, George Overbey – D, Jon Eubanks – R, Gary Deffenbaugh – R
District 12 – Percy Malone’s open seat. Potential candidates: Bruce Maloch – D and Lane Jean – R
District 15 – New Seat. Potential candidates: Johnny Hoyt – D, Ed Garner – R & David Sanders – R (Hoyt announced this week)
District 27 – Gene Jeffress’ open seat. Potential candidates: John Lowry – D, Matthew Shepherd – R, Garry Smith – D
District 35 – Gilbert Baker’s open seat. Potential candidates: Linda Tyler – D, Jason Rapert – R (Rapert announced last week)
There are four open seats on our list where we didn’t find potential Republican candidates, but surely that will change soon. Further, more Senate races could heat up, but until "potential" candidates actually announce the above five races are ones to watch.
The fight for the State Senate in 2012 will be expensive, intense and its end result will have major implications for Governor Beebe, both political parties, and most importantly, the citizens of this state.
My colleague on the other side of the aisle, Jason Tolbert, offers his take on Republican strategies here.