Cook: Halter’s Options Following Ross’ ‘Monster’ Fundraising Quarter

by Michael Cook ( 4 views 

Fundraising reports are in for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates and the data tells us a story about the two campaigns. The reports also lead me to make a prediction.

Former Congressman Mike Ross broke Arkansas fundraising records today by raising $1.97 million last quarter. Ross ended the quarter with $1.7 million cash-on-hand.

Former Lt. Governor Bill Halter raised $92,900 last quarter and ended the period with $837,046 in the bank.

The fundraising quarter ran from April 1 through June 30 of this year.

Ross put up a monster fundraising figure and those numbers alone make him the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Frankly, the nomination is his to lose.

Which leads me to my prediction: Bill Halter will soon exit the Governor’s race.

I have had no conversations with the Halter or his campaign on this, so this is purely my speculation. And my prediction is based purely on the fundraising numbers.

When running for Arkansas Governor, the vast majority of campaign money comes from within the state. Outside donors don’t care who our next Governor is, unless they do business here.

The problem for Bill Halter is, while he has impressive national fundraising ability, it just doesn’t translate into campaign funds for an Arkansas Governor’s race. His out-of-state donors don’t care who will be the next Governor of Arkansas.

The Arkansas donor establishment has gotten behind Mike Ross and that likely won’t change. Moreover, in politics money breeds money, so Ross’s future fundraising figures are likely to be equally impressive.

I’m sure Halter has or will think all of this through. There has been talk for a few weeks of Halter getting pressure to get out of the race. With Halter, I doubt he feels that type of pressure.

Halter is not the typical Arkansas politician, he was first elected without the Democratic establishment behind him and he almost beat an incumbent U.S. Senator in the primary, which the establishment wanted re-elected. If Halter exits the race, it’s because he sees there are better options.

What are Bill Halter’s options after exiting the race, if my prediction were to come to pass?

In my opinion, they fall into one of three scenarios.

1) Not run for anything in 2014.

This means he’ll make a bunch more money and spend time with his young family. To have such problems, as my grandmother would say.

2) Run for the Second Congressional District.

Tim Griffin is vulnerable and can be beaten. I wrote a story on this very topic on Friday.

By running for the Second District, Halter would instantly have the Democratic establishment behind him, pleased that he’s taking on the Oil Pipe Cheerleader, and they’ll do what they can to help the former Lt. Governor.

Griffin’s campaign floated an internal poll last week where they had the Congressman at 51% against Bill Halter.

What struck me most with that poll, if it’s to believed, is that while 51% is no doubt a winning number, is that the best Griffin can do? The undecideds likely break against Griffin in a General Election and a well-funded opponent naturally peels away some of that 51% already. That’s not the strongest poll I’ve seen for an incumbent.

Bill Halter could beat Tim Griffin.

3) Run for the Fourth Congressional District.

This possibility is intriguing. If, as expected, Tom Cotton runs for the U.S. Senate, this will be an open seat. The potential Republican Congressional candidates, State Rep. Bruce Westerman, Lt. Governor Mark Darr and Beth Anne Rankin, are not that impressive.

None have any proven fundraising ability or ties to national money like Tom Cotton had during his Congressional run.

Halter owns a home and farm in Garland County and could easily move his family there.

What intrigues me about this scenario is since it’s an open seat, it would be easier than running against an incumbent. While Griffin is vulnerable, he’s well-funded and knows how to run a campaign. The potential Fourth District Republican candidates do not have those traits.

Also, next year the Fourth Congressional District will be the dominant district. With Halter out, that means the Democratic nominee for Governor and the presumptive Democratic Attorney General nominee, Nate Steel, are both from South Arkansas. To say nothing about Cotton running from the Fourth District. And Pryor will certainly fight hard in the Fourth to keep Cotton from getting any extra votes.

Turnout in the Fourth District will be through the roof in 2014.

Mike Ross has had the Fourth District politically wired since 2000 and his turnout operation would help Halter and having a credible, well-funded Congressional candidate running as the Democratic nominee helps Ross. Current political rivals would turn into political allies.

Finally, the Fourth District has a conservative bent, but it has an economic populism and economic fairness bent that is much stronger. Halter could hitch his wagon to these themes and ride them to victory.

If Halter runs for either Congressional District, his national fundraising base kicks into high gear since a vote in Congress is worth the same, whether it’s from Arkansas or Florida. Moreover, Arkansas-based donors who won’t give to Halter for a Governor’s race would likely open their wallets if he ran for Congress.

I’ve done campaign work for Mike Ross, especially during his first run in 2000, and I’ve obviously worked for Bill Halter in the Lt. Governor’s office. In my ideal world, both of these dedicated public servants will continue to lead Arkansas in some capacity, fighting to make our state an even better place.

When you think about it, for the fifth election cycle in a row Bill Halter’s actions and political decisions will have a significant impact on Arkansas politics.

Let’s see what he decides to do next.