Halter, the former lieutenant governor, says he’s dropping out in the name of Democratic uniy.
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com Editor
LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Arkansas Democrats have avoided a potentially divisive primary for governor in 2014, after former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter announced he’s dropping out of the race and throwing his support to former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross.
The decision is good news for Democrats fighting to hold on to the governor’s mansion in an increasingly Republican state.
In a surprise announcement on July 29, Halter said he was dropping out to avoid a “divisive” primary against Ross and “to help unite the Democratic Party.” His decision came after second quarter fundraising numbers showed Ross outraising him by a staggering 20-to-1 margin.
In 2010, Halter challenged U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln in a bruising and ultimately unsuccessful primary battle that contributed to her defeat in November by GOP challenger John Boozman.
Halter’s campaign was non-committal on reports that he will now run for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, held by Republican Rep. Tim Griffin. Democrats are eyeing the district, centered in metro Little Rock, because Griffin carried it with just 55 percent of the vote against an underfunded Democratic challenger in 2012.
Halter jumped into the governor’s race in January after Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the Democratic frontrunner, pulled out after confessing to an extramarital affair. Ross, who had said he was leaving politics when he gave up his House seat in 2012, changed his mind and followed suit.
However, Halter’s short stint in the race could have a lasting impact by introducing the issue of abortion into the mix in a way that could present difficulty for Ross.
To counter Halter’s support among Democrats who support legal abortion, Ross — who had a pro-life voting record as a member of Congress — moved left, saying he supported Gov. Mike Beebe’s vetoes of two bills passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have restricted abortion.
The Arkansas Republican Party, commenting on Halter’s withdrawal, emphasized Ross’s change of position, saying, “How long will it take political opportunist Mike Ross to flip flop again and pretend he never changed his positions on abortion and the Second Amendment?”
Republicans have a primary battle of their own to sort out. Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson is running against Little Rock businesman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers.
Hutchinson, the former No. 2 man in the federal Deparment of Homeland Security, is the National Rifle Association’s point man for its school safety initiative, He is seen as the frontrunner, despite previously losing three statewide races for U.S. Senate, governor and attorney general.
Beebe, the popular Democratic incumbent, is term limited, giving Republicans a shot at taking the state’s top office. While Republicans control the legislature and Arkansas’ entire congressional delegation, Democrats hold six of the seven state constitutional offices.