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Asa Hutchinson and Mike Ross advance to Arkansas governor’s race

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin wins Republican primary for lieutenant governor

♦By Rich Shumate,

LITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Two former members of the U.S. House — Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross — will meet in November in the governor’s race in Arkansas.

Hutchinson, 63, easily won the GOP nomination on May 20, carrying 72 percent of the vote against Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman. Ross, 52, won a lopsided victory in the Democratic primary over Lynette Bryant, a Little Rock physician, with 85 percent.

Hutchinson served two terms in Congress, representing northwest Arkansas, before being appointed in 2001 as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He has lost three previous races for statewide office, including an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2006.

After the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last year, Hutchinson signed on as the point man for National Rifle Association’s effort to combat school violence without imposing any new restrictions on firearms.

Ross served 12 years in Congress, representing southern and western Arkansas, before retiring in 2012. In the House, he was a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and was one of the few Democrats to vote against Obamacare when it came to the floor of the House.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross

Ross had initially said he would not run for governor, but he jumped into the race when the Democratic front-runner, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, withdrew after admitting to an extra-marital affair with a woman who was later charged with manslaughter.

In the primary races for lieutenant governor, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock won the Republican nomination over two challengers. He will face Democrat John Burkhalter, a former member of the state highway commission from Little Rock, in November.

Analysis: Results in Arkansas Senate election bode ill for Democrats in November

Victory by an anti-Obamacare Republican in a Democratic district may forecast trouble ahead for Mark Pryor and Mike Ross

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugJONESBORO, Arkansas (CFP) — The results of a special election to fill a vacancy in the Arkansas Senate are making Natural State Democrats mighty nervous.ME sm

Republican John Cooper easily defeated Democrat Steve Rockwell in a district in Jonesboro, in the northeastern part of the state.

Rockwell was a moderate businessman in the image of Governor Mike Beebe and former U.S. House Rep. Mike Ross, the Democratic candidate for governor this year.

He was also running in a what had been a Democratic district, in a part of the state that traditionally leans Democratic.

But Cooper, a retired AT&T manager, based his campaign on opposition to the state’s private-option expansion of Medicaid to cover uninsured Arkansans — an expansion made possible by the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.

Rockwell supported the private option, which Beebe pushed through the legislature last year. While the propoal had substantial Republican support at the time, a strongly anti-Obamacare faction of the GOP was incensed and has been making their displeasure known ever since.

Cooper’s victory may imperil the private option, which will come before the legislature again this year. The first time around, it passed in the Senate with just two votes to spare, one of which was cast by the man Cooper is replacing, Paul Bookout.

But perhaps more ominously for Democrats, it indicates the potency of Obamacare as a issue Republicans can use in November.

Pryor, who voted for Obamacare, is being assailed for that vote at every turn by his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton.

Ross may also face the backlash in the governor’s race. He supported Obamacare on a key vote in a House committee, although, in the end, he voted against it on the floor. But he has come out in favor of the public option in Arkansas.

Of the three Republicans in the gubernatorial primary, two —  Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman and State Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers — have come out against the private option.  Hobbs voted against it; Coleman’s campaign Web site features a petition calling for its repeal.

The Republican frontrunner, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, has not taken a clear position on the private option. However, he has been highly critical of Ross for his committe vote for the Obamacare bill.

Coleman and Hobbs have been trying to make hay out of Hutchinson’s lack of clarity on the private option. It remains to be seen if either one of them can ride it to victory in the primary.

But no matter who Republicans end up nominating, Obamacare is going to be the 800-pound gorilla in both the races for Senate and governor. And if the Jonesboro Senate race is a barometer of how it may play, that is not good news for Pryor or Ross.

Even more problematic may be the fact that the fight over the private option will dominate the upcoming legislative budget session, pitting Beebe and his Democratic allies in the legislature against a very noisy anti-Obamacare faction for weeks on end.

One potential silver lining for Ross and Pryor: If Republicans manage to torpedo the private option, as many as 250,000 Arkansans who will be thrown off the insurance rolls may get mad enough to fight back.

Bill Halter drops out of Arkansas governor’s race, leaving Democratic field clear for former Rep. Mike Ross

Halter, the former lieutenant governor, says he’s dropping out in the name of Democratic uniy.

♦By Rich Shumate, Editor

arkansas mugLITTLE 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.


Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter

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.


Former U.S. Rep. Mike 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.

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