There’s no way around it. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross had an excellent July.
The former 4th District congressman is now sitting with a campaign chest full of cash and a clear path to the nomination after his primary rival dropped out of the race.
That is remarkable considering only a few months ago Ross was not even a candidate. As 2012 closed, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was considered the favorite in the Democrats’ plan to hold the Governor’s Mansion after term-limited Gov. Mike Beebe leaves office.
Although Ross had considered running for governor, he announced last year that he had instead chosen to enjoy the quiet life of the private sector.
But McDaniel’s personal failings became public, and not long afterward he concluded that a long primary and general election would only continue the focus on the problem. Despite being the clear Democratic primary front-runner with more than $1 million in his campaign account, he exited the race before it really began.
McDaniel’s exit led to the immediate entry of former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. But for a multitude of reasons, there never seemed to be any excitement for a Halter race for governor. Part of it had to do with the maverick personality of Halter, who showed no reluctance to buck the Democratic establishment.
It is hard to put a finger on exactly where the animosity between the Democratic Party establishment and Halter began.
Part of it goes back to the 2006 gubernatorial election when Halter flirted with the idea of opposing then-Attorney General Mike Beebe before opting for the lieutenant governor’s race instead. That was exacerbated by his campaign against incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary in 2010.
For whatever reason, state Democrats simply do not like Halter and did not warm to the idea of him as the party standard bearer for the 2014 gubernatorial election. That led to the party faithful begging Ross to leave his comfortable private job and jump back into the race, which he did in April after a brief break.
In 2010, Beebe and then-Congressman Ross were just about the only Arkansas Democrats able to survive the Republican tidal wave. Democrats are hopeful Ross can continue that in 2014 as he runs for what he is basically attempting to sell as Beebe’s third term.
In July, we found out that the Democratic Party delivered on promised support for Ross by filling his campaign account with nearly $2 million. Most of these funds were designated for his primary campaign.
With barely one-tenth of that level of support, Halter saw the handwriting on the wall and bowed out gracefully.
"Since we announced our gubernatorial campaign, another strong candidate has entered the primary election and in order to avoid a divisive primary and to help unite the Democratic Party, I am ending my campaign for governor. I congratulate Mike Ross on a great start to his campaign and I will be working hard to elect him and other Democratic nominees for office in the coming election," Halter said in an email to supporters.
But Halter has not said if he will seek another opportunity in politics like he did in 2006. Some in his party are encouraging him to challenge incumbent Republican Congressman Tim Griffin in Central Arkansas. I imagine Halter is testing whether the encouragement would translate into tangible support if he decided to pursue it.
Either way, Ross is certainly sitting in the catbird seat for what is really a recent entrance into the governor’s race. Fortunately for Republican Asa Hutchinson, there is no real credible opponent in his Republican primary. Neither of the two announced primary opponents — businessman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers — has yet to show any ability to compete.
Hutchinson also has time to catch up on the fundraising. But trailing Ross by about $1 million, that needs to happen sooner rather than later for him to be competitive.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.