Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Governor's Race So Far

Bebee Boo-boos mix with one shrewd move that could backfire. Asa achieves Million Dollar Milestone.

By Mark Moore (click time below for article).

4 Comments:

Blogger Mark Moore (Moderator) said...

The beginning of a new year is a good time to give an accounting of the race for Governor. The race is wide open, but overall it is hard to argue with the conclusion that Asa Hutchinson made great strides over the past year, and the Bebee campaign has had a hard time building momentum.

At the start of 2005 it looked like Bebee had the Democratic field to himself, and that Asa was going to be in a costly primary that threatened to sap energy and unity. At the end of 2005 Republicans are united behind Asa and Bebee is the one who faces the possiblity of a well-funded opponent- should Bill Halter jump in the race this month.

At the beginning of 2005 the Republican party of Arkansas was facing huge financial liabilities and the Democratic party seemed to be in decent shape. At the end of 2005 the Republican party is flush with cash, and set to get a lot more. The Democratic Party is deep in debt and are going to need all the filing fees they can muster just to keep their doors open. They won't have much if anything left to help their candidates. The Republicans will.

Consider: Candidates in primaries tend to come out of them broke, but the Republican candidates can hope to get their coffers refilled by the party apparatus. The Democrats are on their own. I would venture to guess that at this point in time, the Libertarian, Constitution, and Green Party all are in better financial shape than the debt-ridden Democrats! The sniping and in-fighting going on in that party means their administrative cohesion is as weak as their account balances. This is not rah-rah one-sided reporting. This is what is actually going on in Arkansas politics right now.

AG Bebee has raised an impressive amount of money- 1.7 million dollars. So has Asa, who has raised just over one million dollars. If Halter enters the race, Asa is in a better financial position than the Democratic nominee. If he does not, Bebee currently has the stronger finances, but not overwhelmingly so- and the gap is liable to close even more for some of the reasons stated above.

Both are raising adequate amounts of money to get their message out in a small state like Arkansas. Once you raise enough money to get your message out, additional units of money are less important than the quality of that message.

For example, in 04 incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln drained her campaign coffers (and the pockets of Democratic donors) to the tune of 6.7 million dollars. Her underfunded opponent Jim Holt spent only $148,000, but still came fairly close. Being the incumbent, having better name-ID, and outspending her opponent a whopping 40-1 only translated to a 10-12 point win because her message did not resonate and Holt's did (to the inadequate extent he was able to get it out).

The money can only be used to get your message out. So how are the messages doing in the Governor's race?

Asa has a couple of winning themes and he is sticking to them. Bebee has virtually gone into hiding except for one potentially shrewd move that I will discuss shortly.

Everyone that cares to knows that Asa wants to change the law to protect property owners from government intrusion. It is a legitimate issue. Developers are conspiring with local officials all over America to abuse imminent domian. They are using the government to force a transfer of property from one set of private owners to another. That is wrong and Asa's message her resonates even with populist Democrats. Soccer moms are the swing vote that everyone keeps talking about in Washington, and they are important, but in Arkansas populist Democrats are just as important. If Republicans win state-wide in Arkansas it is because they got populist Democrats to vote for them. They voted for Bush and if the Republicans can give them a ticket they are comfortable with they will come over.

Mike Bebee is the Attorney General, but holding the office has actually hurt him on several issues, including this one. He opined that our laws protecting property rights were fine just before the evidence came in that the clearly need to be strengthened.

On an aside, that has happened time and again. Bebee has been put on the spot when asked for an opinion on issues. He either riles his base or riles the independents. Sometimes he issues a muddled opinion that makes neither side happy, as with the Fayetteville indecent books in schools issue. Sometimes he just errs, as with both the property rights and the recent medicare debacle, where Bebee offered a "solution" that was clearly against federal and state law. Ouch!

This does not even consider the ethical laspses in the Bebee campaign, such as clear evidence that the state office is being used for campaign purposes.

Now AG Bebee has made very shrewd use of his office on one issue. He has jumped in the conflict between Oklahoma and Arkansas on this water-quality issue. Oklahoma is complaining that water coming from NWA is below standards. Bebee says those are your standards not ours. He may well be right, or he may not be. The important thing politically is that the NWA poultry industry is applauding his aggressive move. This has the potential to cut into Asa's base.

Of course, environmentalists are none too pleased with Bebee, in their eyes, defending water-polluters. That is a part of Bebee's base. Bebee is banking they won't go to Asa. Bebee's best bet is peeling off some businessmen who would normally vote Republican- if he can do so without angering his base. They will not know what he is giving up behind closed doors in exchange for nominally Republican business support, but they know it will be something.

If State Senator Tim Wooldridge wins the Lt. Governor's nomination then the Democrats will be fielding the most environmentally unfriendly ticket they have in years. You know what, they don't care. They care about winning, and if polluted water is the cost of winning, then it just has to be that way.

Where are the environmentalists in the Democratic party going to go? Well, the most committed ones might go to Green Party candidate Jim Lendall, should he get ballot access. If that happens, an un-inspiring Bebee could lose some protest votes. How many? I don't know, but in a close election it could be enough.

Asa's other message is creating a generally pro-business environment to bring jobs to our state. He would do this by reducing taxes on energy and other infrastructure type items. Bebee is a different kind of "pro-business". His idea is that you keep taxes high, then government gives special deals to favored industries. The government, rather than the choices of people in a free market, pick which businesses win. That is called "crony capitalism" in Japan, and "corruption" elsewhere. It is considered "pro-business" mostly by politicians, the benefitting businesses, and their lobbys.

Even the skill of the candidates in personally advancing their message is increasingly favoring Asa. At the beginning of 2005, Asa addressed a group like an Undersecretary delivering a report to a group of Washington stuffed shirts. He has improved on the road and is now speaking more like someone telling stories to a group of friends. Bebee only peeks out occaisionally to say things like he wants to keep it eaiser to raise sales taxes in Arkansas than it is to raise other taxes or some similar faux pas.

The outcome is still almost a year away. The polls show it is close. I am not making any predictions, but rather giving you a summary. At the beginning of 2005 Bebee was way ahead. At the end of it, there is no clear leader, but Asa has momentum.

11:34 AM, January 15, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great anlysis. The best I have read thus far. Thanks for taking the time to think this through.

5:58 PM, January 15, 2006  
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