Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) endorsed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross on Saturday (Aug. 17) at the State Capitol in Little Rock.

The endorsement comes as little surprise as Beebe and Ross have a long-standing working relationship from their days in the Arkansas State Senate as well as their political affiliation.

Ross may be on a clear path to the Democratic nomination now that former Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter exited the race last month. No major challenger is expected to contend with Ross for the nomination.

Beebe said he thinks Ross’ emphasis on education and economic development – two linchpins of his administration’s focus – make him the best candidate in the race.

“I have known Mike since we served together in the State Senate,” Beebe said. “He’s a close, personal friend and I am proud to support and endorse Mike Ross to be this state’s next governor. Arkansas has made too great of strides in education and economic development to allow our state to turn back that progress now. Mike Ross will unite this state with a bipartisan focus on education, job creation and tax reform, and he will serve as the hardworking, compassionate leader we need to continue moving Arkansas forward.”

“I am proud and honored to accept Governor Beebe’s endorsement – someone I have admired since the days when we worked side-by-side in the State Senate,” said Ross.

“Governor Beebe has served this state well and the reason he’s the most popular governor in America is because he always puts good public policy over partisan politics and he always puts Arkansas first,” Ross said. “When I’m elected governor, I’ll do the same and I’ll bring Democrats and Republicans together to strengthen education, create more good-paying jobs and make targeted tax cuts that help working families, and we’ll do all this in a fiscally responsible way that continues to balance our budget. I will build on Governor Beebe’s foundation on education, job creation and tax reform and I will unite this state to keep moving Arkansas forward.”

While Ross appears to have a clear field, his likely Republican challenger, Asa Hutchinson, faces a GOP primary battle next spring with Rep. Debra Hobbs and businessman Curtis Coleman.

DO ENDORSEMENTS MATTER?
Endorsements do and don’t matter, said Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College, polling partner for Talk Business Arkansas.

“In addition to today’s high-profile announcement, I’m sure we will hear Mike Ross tout the support he has from Beebe in every speech he gives between now and November 2014. That is because, as our polling and others have shown the governor’s approval numbers have never dipped from the high 60s and early 70s,” Barth said.

In our latest Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll, taken in late February, Beebe’s job approval rating found that 68% approved of the Governor’s performance while only 19% disapproved.

In that poll, Beebe performed extraordinarily well with Democratic and Independent voters. Even 57% of Republicans approved of the job Beebe, a Democrat, was doing.

“While endorsements historically have little impact on the outcome especially when they are from fellow partisans, this does suggest Beebe does plan to campaign actively for his possible successor and he does seem to be the one Arkansas politician who breaks through the increasingly polarized Arkansas political environment. Beebe’s visibility could matter in what is likely to be a very close race,” Barth added.

In the same Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll referenced earlier, Asa Hutchinson had a 5-point lead over Mike Ross among 675 likely Arkansas voters.  The poll found that 43% supported Hutchinson, while 38% supported Ross and 19% were undecided.

Talk Business and Hendrix College will be in the field to establish a benchmark poll for the 2014 election cycle in early September 2013.

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Talk Business Staff