What Does McDaniel’s News Mean For Republicans?

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 83 views 

The news of Dustin McDaniel dropping out while minutes later Bill Halter jumping in the Governor’s race has given political junkies whiplash.  The question I have been hearing from my Republican brethren is: “Is this good news for Republicans?”

To quote my political science professor Hal Bass from Ouachita, “It depends.”

First of all, the best case scenario for Republicans just went out the window.   The best case would have been for McDaniel to stay in the race only to survive a brutal Democratic primary against Halter, preferably with an added expense of a June runoff.  If you don’t understand why this would have been great for Republicans, then give Blanche Lincoln a call.  Anyway, now that will not happen.

So McDaniel has given Democrats a chance to hit the reset button on their nominee to replace Gov. Beebe.  Whether they can do this now depends largely on who runs.

We know Bill Halter will be a candidate.  While his statement today is short of a full announcement, it is clear he is laying the groundwork, putting a campaign team in place, and will start raising money.

The good news for Republicans here is that Halter is not the heir apparent to Gov. Beebe as McDaniel was perceived a couple of months back.  Halter is not the Democratic establishment favorite.  There is not only bad blood from his 2010 primary challenge to Sen. Lincoln, but he was not Mr. Popular among the insider crowd before that.

His base is the left-leaning Democratic activists.  This does not mean that he will not attempt to move toward the center.  If you recall, he was always careful in how he worded things during 2010 to pacify the liberals funding his race without actually taking many far left positions. Exhibit A.

So the question is does a centrist Beebe-like candidate run against Halter and if so can he or she win?  The name my Democratic friends are hoping for is former Congressman Mike Ross.

If Ross gets in, this very well could be the worst case scenario for Republican chances.  His broad-base appeal would give him the best chance of appealing to independent voters – the ones who split their 2010 ballot with votes for Gov.  Beebe and for Sen. Boozman. It is this 20 percent or so of the electorate that will determine who wins in November.

But Ross is perceived as a “DINO” (Democrat In Name Only) by some within his party which will likely galvanize the liberal left behind Halter leading to a very interesting primary.  It is likely he could survive this though for several reasons including his strength in south Arkansas where Halter did well against Lincoln in 2010.

However, I would put the chance of Ross getting in around 50-50 at best.  He is enjoying the private sector since his exit stage right earlier this month.  A nice salary, a low-stress job, and time with the family will all be reasons he will have to weigh against getting in.  But his party will likely encourage him strongly to reconsider and it might be tough for him to say no.

If Ross does not get in, who would fill this role?  Former State Sen. Shane Broadway is close friends with Beebe and could possibly make a go of it, but he is not that well-known statewide. And as of a couple weeks ago told me he has no such plans.  Other names are even lesser known, such as Arkansas Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter who is wealthy enough to self-fund.  But any of these candidates will have an uphill battle beating Halter much less winning the general election.

In short, McDaniel’s news does not necessarily mean a slam dunk for Republican Asa Hutchinson to become the next governor.  Although McDaniel’s exit will certainly allow Hutchinson to raise a ton of money from business interests that care more about contributing to the ultimate winner more than they do either party’s ideology.

In my view, much depends on if Ross decides he wants to go for it or stay put.