Cook: Lackluster GOP AG Candidates & Thin Democratic Down-Ballot Bench

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 58 views 

37.7%, 45.5%, 40.7%

What do these numbers have in common? Those are the percentages Asa Hutchinson received in his three previous failed attempts for statewide office.

I’ve written before on how with a growing Arkansas Republic Party, it’s telling the best that party can do for a presumptive nominee for governor is a political retread who lost his first statewide race when Ronald Reagan was President.

This lack of quality candidates for the Arkansas Republic Party has proven to be true so far at the Attorney General level. Before I get too deep into this article, I must concede upfront that it is still early and other credible Republican candidates could easily emerge.

However, today’s announcement by Democratic State Representative Nate Steel got me thinking about contrasting the announced Attorney General candidates for both parties. And it got me thinking about the state of the Democratic bench in Arkansas.

Nate Steel is in his third-term as State Representative from Nashville and is a former deputy prosecutor. He’s completely unknown statewide at this time, but his background and political profile gives him instant credibility as an Attorney General candidate. Steel has a very bright political future.

When you look at the Republic Party candidates for AG, it’s a different story. Currently, David Sterling and Leslie Rutledge are the only announced candidates.

Sterling is in private practice in North Little Rock, has never held elective office and Republican insiders tell me he’s “way out there.” In short, I think he comes in last in the Republican primary regardless of the candidates.

Rutledge is a Republican political operative who just moved back to Arkansas this year after living in D.C. for five years and working for various Republican political organizations. She is a former deputy prosecutor and worked in the Huckabee administration, but she also has never held elective office and is a complete unknown.

Never holding elective office and then living out of state for so long makes for a very weak statewide candidate. It only works if you have a big chunk of your own money to spend on a campaign. See Bill Halter’s 2006 Lt. Governor campaign as an example.

Right now, the Republican field of Attorney General candidates is amazingly weak. And it makes one wonder if this is the best that Republicans can do?

(Poultry Federation lobbyist Marvin Childers is considering a GOP run for AG and he would bring pros and cons to the table.)

To be fair, the Democratic field for Attorney General is completely different than ever before and may reflect a lack of a bench. At least Democrats do have one candidate with the credibility and background to become Attorney General, while Republicans do not.

Since 1990, Democrats have either started off with a well-known politician or a group of up-and-coming young politicos running for an open Attorney General seat.

In 1990, 1998 and 2002, three well-known Democratic politicians were unopposed in the Attorney General primary: Winston Bryant, Mark Pryor and Mike Beebe respectively.

In 2006, three up-and-coming Democratic elected officials ran for the open seat. Paul Suskie, Robert Herzfeld and Dustin McDaniel. All were extremely credible candidates and that year Democrats had an embarrassment of riches in the primary. Dustin McDaniel eventually became the nominee and then the Attorney General.

Historically, whoever becomes Attorney General is an automatic front-runner for the nomination for higher office: Governor, U.S. Senate, Congress. This year, it seems the only credible Democratic candidate is willing to step up and run. Frankly, that doesn’t bode well for the Democratic Party.

My point is the Democratic bench is thin when a currently unknown State Representative announces and automatically becomes the presumptive nominee.

Allow me to hasten to add that is no way a slam against Representative Steel. He’s going to make a great candidate and an even better Attorney General. And as I said before, he has instant credibility as an Attorney General candidate, while the announced Republican candidates do not.

The bad news for Republicans is their announced Attorney General candidates do not have the gravitas to win a statewide general election.

The bad news for Democrats is the talent bench is not as deep as it once was. But, the good news is their candidate is an up-and-comer who will likely be the next Attorney General.