Arkansas is a small Southern state, but as it has in past elections, it will once again play an outsized role in the 2016 Presidential election. Two candidates with deep Arkansas ties, former Governor Mike Huckabee and former Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton are both running for President.
With two former Arkansans running for President, surely it will have some effect on our state’s politics, but in what way?
In my opinion, Mike Huckabee will not be the Republican nominee so his effect on Arkansas’s political landscape will likely be minimal. Recall Huckabee’s history of raising taxes and remember the name Maurice Clemmons for reasons why he will not be the GOP nominee.
On the other hand, you can just about bet your fortune Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. However, it’s too early to tell if she’ll get to move back into the White House.
So, what effect, if any, will Hillary Clinton’s candidacy have on Arkansas politics?
First, to get it out of the way, Hillary Clinton will not win Arkansas in next year’s general election.
Back in late 2013, I wrote a story which argued Hillary couldn’t win our state and some Democrats at the time strongly disagreed with that assessment. But based on last November’s election, I think it’s officially safe to say we all agree Hillary won’t win Arkansas.
However, even though she won’t carry Arkansas, her run will undoubtedly have an effect on our state’s politics. Granted, it’s extremely early in the Presidential race, but there are likely some reasonable assumptions that could be made at this point.
In my opinion, Hillary’s candidacy will likely have the biggest effect on the currently moribund Arkansas Democrats.
During President Obama’s time in office, state Democrats are and were stuck in a strategically disastrous position with a locally unpopular President in a era where even legislative races are nationalized. State Democrats fortunes have been tied to Obama and when the President was polling around 30% last November it proved to be a catastrophe for Democrats.
I spoke recently with Hendrix college professor and TB&P contributor Dr. Jay Barth about the Hillary effect topic. Overall, Barth believes her candidacy won’t have an effect on the big picture of current Republican dominance in our state, but below the surface it could be beneficial to Democrats:
“State Democrats running in Arkansas would be able to much more fully embrace the national ticket and create a little more message coherence than has been the case in the past few years where you really just seen most state Democrats distance themselves from the continually President and it ended up being a mess rhetorically,” said Barth.
“It would bring back to life a different part of the Democratic base, maybe more of the base than there’s been there for the President. Both of those things end up probably having some benefit for Democratic down-ticket candidates, but the key though there need to be candidates run who are high-quality,” he said.
Clinton’s run will surely energize the Democratic base and increase turnout, helping down-ballot Democratic candidates. The increased turnout, however, won’t cause a political sea change sweeping massive amounts of Democrats back into office.
What could happen though is Democrats could implement the first step of a “chipping away” strategy and take back some legislative seats, but how many, if any, it is too early to tell at this point. 1? 3? 6? We’ll know more about this possibility once filing closes next year.
Finally, allow me to delicately touch on the topic of race as it pertains to the Presidential campaign and Southern politics.
If you ask 10 reasonable observers of Southern politics what has been the defining political issue in this region for the past 75 years, I’d bet nine out of ten of them would say race.
But bring up the fact that America elected a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency and all of a sudden no one wants to admit that his race was one of the factors why he is wildly unpopular among some whites in the former states of the Confederacy.
Let me be perfectly clear, just because one opposes Obama as president it doesn’t automatically mean that person does so because of the President’s race. There are people of good faith and convictions who honestly just oppose Obama’s policies. Race is certainly not the only factor for his unpopularity among some white voters in Arkansas, but it is a factor that cannot be ignored.
Hillary’s race and gender are a long-term benefit to Arkansas Democrats, with her gender being especially important to state Democrats as they attempt to reach out to women voters. White women voters must be key a constituency for Arkansas Democrats to make any kind of comeback and Hillary’s candidacy, and possible presidency, could aid in making in-roads in this demographic.
After the 2016 general election, Republicans will still be the majority party in Arkansas, controlling the legislative and executive branches. But in the end, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy might just help Arkansas Democrats on their long road toward a comeback.