Mark Sanford Makes A Comeback; Can Dustin McDaniel In 2014?

by Michael Cook ( 77 views 

On Tuesday, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford made an official political comeback with his election to Congress. This got me to thinking about Arkansas politics and political comebacks.

Mark Sanford made a political comeback, can Attorney General Dustin McDaniel do the same? More to the point, could Dustin McDaniel run for Congress in 2014?

The short answer: maybe.

As we all know, in December of 2012 McDaniel admitted to having an affair with a Hot Springs attorney and subsequently dropped out of the Governor’s race the following month. Prior to the scandal. McDaniel was the heir-apparent to Mike Beebe in the Democratic primary and had an excellent shot at becoming the next Governor.

To his credit, McDaniel saved the Democratic Party months of agony with his fairly quick departure from the race. The scandal would have plagued his campaign for months if he had remained in the race.

Sanford’s scandal seemed like it was scripted by Aaron Sorkin, with twists and turns all along the Appalachian Trail. But Sanford was still able to win an election, albeit almost fours years after his affair came to light.

McDaniel has time and opportunity on his side if he were to attempt a comeback in 2014.

On the issue of time, let’s remember that by the time the 2014 general election rolls around it will have been almost two years after McDaniel’s scandal first broke, meaning it will have faded in the public’s memory.

Granted, a Republican opponent, or a third-party group, likely brings up the issue of McDaniel’s indiscretion, but there is potential for blowback against those using this line of attack. To mix metaphors, at a certain point the cliche of beating a dead horse comes to mind especially if McDaniel sticks to a message of asking for forgiveness and moving on.

Further, I wonder and, as weird as this theory may sound, will voters see the fact the he won’t be Governor in 2014 as a form of penance for his sin? It should also be noted that Sanford is divorced from his wife and engaged to his former mistress, while McDaniel remains married to his second wife, Bobbi.

Another time advantage for McDaniel is that he can hold off announcing a Congressional run until late this year or even early next year, letting his past indiscretion recede even further in the public’s mind.

Frankly, there’s not many Democrats who could beat McDaniel in a Democratic Congressional primary, so even if other candidates announced he could quickly swamp them with his name recognition and fundraising abilities.

The opportunity advantage I mentioned refers to which Congressional race McDaniel were to enter, the 1st or the 2nd District, if he wanted to attempt a political comeback. One could make a strong case for McDaniel to enter either race.

McDaniel hails from the vote-rich area of Northeast Arkansas which is also home to incumbent Rick Crawford. McDaniel could fight Crawford to a draw in that area and make up the vote difference in the southern part of the district. The 1st CD has always been McDaniel’s base and running there makes sense.

However, I’m starting to think running in the 2nd District may be more advantageous to a theoretical run by McDaniel due to geography and the opponent.

The 1st CD is a sprawling district, running from Mississippi County all the way down to Chicot County. Look at this map to see a visual representation.

Notice how compact the 2nd CD is and how quickly you can get anywhere in the district from Little Rock? The 2nd CD lends itself easier to retail politics, which is important for McDaniel since he could easily travel the district, look voters in the eye and apologize for his mistake and ask them to focus on issues that affect their daily lives. Also, a 2nd CD candidate only needs to buy Little Rock television, but in the 1st one must buy Little Rock, Jonesboro and the expensive Memphis market.

Congressman Tim Griffin is in the middle of a political nightmare. During his 2012 re-election campaign, Griffin made building the Keystone oil pipeline a major part of his message, only to see an oil pipeline bust open in Faulkner County this year. This is a major political problem for Griffin.

Attorney General McDaniel is constantly on the news on this issue, going after the oil company and being seen as standing up for consumers. Griffin is viewed as being on the side of the oil company. Also, an oil pipeline busting open and how the Congressman still wants more pipelines is an easy story to explain, unlike the U.S. Attorney imbroglio which voters just didn’t understand when it was used against him in 2010.

Faulkner County is a critical county vote-wise in the 2nd CD and the issue of Griffin’s support for oil pipelines that have a habit of busting open is a major problem for the Congressman. Griffin actually lost Pulaski County last year to a third-tier candidate who was arrested for drunk driving in the middle of the race.

Imagine if in 2014 Griffin loses both Pulaski and Faulkner County and McDaniel is able to barely win or barely lose the other counties in the district. That spells trouble for Griffin.

Seeing McDaniel dominating the media on the busted oil pipe issue causes me to wonder if he is making the same political calculations? Yes, part of it is just doing his job as Attorney General, but notice the contrasting narrative he’s setting up in the public’s mind as it pertains to Tim Griffin? The AG fights for consumers and landowners, the Congressman fights for oil companies who destroy your property.

It is certainly possible for the Attorney General to make a political comeback in 2014. However, it won’t be as easy.

Everyone in the state knows about McDaniel’s affair and many may believe it’s still too soon for him to run for office. Moreover, there is still a question of whether or not more damaging information will come to light over his involvement with the Hot Springs attorney.

Both Republican opponents will have massive warchests and both would attempt to tie him to an unpopular in Arkansas President Obama. “A vote for McDaniel is a vote for Obama” would be a core part of their message. McDaniel would have to fight off this attack by showing his political independence while at the same time avoiding ticking off the Democratic base. All the while, hoping voters will have forgiven him for his personal mistake.

Dustin McDaniel could make a successful political comeback in 2014, but it would be a fight from start to finish. And obviously only McDaniel knows if he wants to make the run now and risk it, or wait until 2016, 2018, etc.

Finally, now that you’ve taken time to read this rather long story, watch Dustin McDaniel announce tomorrow that he won’t be a candidate for any office in 2014.

But it’s still an interesting theory to kick around.