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Wednesday, February 01, 2006 

CQ: "No Clear Favorite" In Ark. Gov's Race

Interesting story from Congressional Quarterly....check it out...

The Truth


AR Gov: Halter's Big Bucks Liven Up Democratic Primary
CQ rates as No Clear Favorite, has only gotten more unpredictable, though, with the emergence of Bill Halter, a former high-ranking Clinton administration official, who is challenging Beebe in the May 23 Democratic primary and has already exhibited some unexpected fundraising clout.

"It has been an unusually intense campaign already," said David Kinkade, Hutchinson's campaign communications director. "There have been lots of twists and turns. It's been a roller coaster."

It had initially appeared Beebe would coast into the general election, while Hutchinson was heading into a tough primary matchup with Lt. Gov. Winthrop P. "Win" Rockefeller. But Rockefeller, the namesake son of a late Republican governor who served from 1967 to 1971, withdrew from the race, citing health concerns.
Halter then appeared on the scene in October, when he established an exploratory campaign committee; he made his candidacy official in late January.

Halter is politically well-connected: He was appointed in 1999 as acting head of the Social Security Administration by a fellow Arkansan, President Bill Clinton. And he moved quickly to dispel any thought he couldn't raise enough money to compete with Beebe and Hutchinson, both of whom have nailed down strong support from their state parties' establishments.
Halter filed papers showing that he has raised a total of $1.4 million — though his opponents note that $600,000 of that was a loan from Halter's personal accounts. That left him well short of Beebe, who led the field with a hefty $2.4 million in contributions through the end of December. But he came in ahead of Hutchinson, who pulled in $1 million.

"That's more than enough to get our message out," said Halter spokesman Bud Jackson. "But this campaign is going to be driven more by message than money."

Halter is running as an outsider, portraying Beebe as part of a political elite that has caused the state to stagnate. "Beebe has been in office for 20 years and has little to show for it," said Jackson. "Education and median income have stayed the same since Halter was a child. We're going to do more to move the ball further down the field."

Halter is an economist by trade, a background his campaign points to as advantageous for the state. Halter worked at the White House Office of Management and Budget prior to his stint as Social Security commissioner.

Beebe, on the other hand, is emphasizing his long career in public office. He was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 1982 and served until his election as attorney general in 2002. According to his campaign, Beebe and his staff have helped bring in millions of dollars in settlements for crime victims and those seeking damages for Medicaid fraud, among others, and achieved reduced utility rates in the state.

"People believe in Arkansas and Mike Beebe connects with that belief," said Beebe spokesman Zac Wright.

Republicans, meanwhile, rallied around Hutchinson after Rockefeller pulled out of the race. This is a pivotal contest for their party in Arkansas, where historic Democratic traditions have remained sturdier than in most of the Republican-trending South.
Huckabee, who moved up from lieutenant governor to fill a vacancy in 1996 and won two terms on his own, is leaving office with such high popularity that he is pondering a run for president in 2008. President Bush carried the state in 2000 and 2004. But Democrats dominate Arkansas' congressional delegation and the state legislature.

Hutchinson represented the northwestern 3rd District — the state's one consistent Republican stronghold — from 1997 until he was confirmed in August 2001 as Bush's choice to direct the Drug Enforcement Agency. He segued from that job into his position as undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security.

Kinkade pointed out Hutchinson's experience afforded him solid preparation to serve as governor. "At the Department of Homeland Security, he oversaw twice as many employees as the Arkansas state government," Kinkade said. "And the DHS budget is larger than most state budgets."

Hutchinson has long held higher political aspirations. In 1986 he ran unsuccessfully for Senate, but was trounced in the general election by veteran Democratic incumbent Dale Bumpers. He considered a rematch bid in 1992 but deferred to Huckabee, then the lieutenant governor, who also lost to Bumpers. Four years later, it was his brother, Tim Hutchinson, who won an open Senate seat that he would hold for one term; Asa Hutchinson was tapped to replace him in the House.

"He wanted to do this for many years. The question was one of timing," said Kinkade. "His heart was always in Arkansas."

Hutchinson and Beebe appeared jointly last week to address the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus on how they would promote economic development in the area. Halter was not in attendance because he was getting married in California.

Hutchinson has been touting his "GROW Arkansas" eight point plan, which includes revising the tax system, investing in education and supporting small business. Beebe unveiled a plan at the forum to "phase out the tax on groceries and replace state revenue by growing the job base," according to Wright.

Halter, who made headlines for proposing a state lottery, is putting much of his focus on improving state schools. "One of his top priorities is education — to make schools excellent rather than adequate," Jackson said. "He will be talking a lot about building and attracting new and better paying jobs to Arkansas."

Latecomers to the race have until April 4 to file candidacy papers.

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