I’m not the first person to point this out, but if Mike Ross is elected governor, he’ll be the third Mike in a row to hold that office, the others being Mike Huckabee and Mike Beebe.
I’m wondering if there’s something to that — not the name Mike in particular, but in having a name to which people can relate. Almost all of Arkansas’ congressional delegation and state constitutional officers have simple, one-syllable, common names. There are three Marks – one of the state’s U.S. senators, the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state; and two Johns, the other senator and the land commissioner. The state’s U.S. representatives are named Rick, Tim, Steve and Tom.
The other three constitutional officers all have two-syllable names, but one, the auditor, is named Charlie, as friendly a name as you’ll find, and his last name is Daniels, which means he has the same name as the guy who sang "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." He’s never lost an election, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The treasurer is a Charles, which is kind of a formal name, but he was appointed, not elected. The only elected official without a good-ole-boy name is the attorney general, named Dustin.
In case you’re wondering, the same principle seems to apply to elected officials wearing stuffy black robes. The Supreme Court justices are named Jim, Don, Courtney, Jo, Paul, Karen and Cliff.
Two of Ross’ opponents in the governor’s race also have common names – businessman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs.
The exception of course, is Asa Hutchinson. Have you ever met another Asa? His unusual name might be an advantage. The last time he ran for governor, many of his campaign’s bumper stickers featured only his first name along with an exclamation point. It didn’t really work, so expect to see "Asa," but not "Asa!" this time.
Arkansans have shown a willingness in the past to vote for officials with unusual names. We elected a Winthrop as governor and his son, also a Winthrop, as lieutenant governor, though the father was often called Win and the son was always called either that or Win Paul. We elected a Jim Guy as governor and a Winston as lieutenant governor and attorney general.
In Arkansas, it’s more important to be on a first-name basis with voters than it is to have the right kind of first name. We are not looking to send Plato’s wise philosopher-kings to Little Rock or Washington to rule over us. We’re looking for relatively common Arkansans who have common Arkansas values, which is why Sen. Mark Pryor must be turning back flips that the mayor of New York City ran ads here criticizing him for being too supportive of gun rights.
Recently, Ross surprised the political establishment by raising almost $2 million during the second quarter of 2013 — a number that dwarfed the combined amount raised by his opponents. That news catapulted him from Democratic frontrunner to presumptive nominee after the other Democratic candidate, former Lt. Governor Bill Halter, dropped out of the race. It surely raised some eyebrows among Ross’ Republican opponents as well.
You can’t get elected to anything these days without using money as a down payment, so Ross starts the campaign with a big advantage. Then again, money alone won’t buy the governor’s office. Arkansans aren’t voting for former U.S. Rep. Ross, former Department of Homeland Security official Hutchinson, or Mr. Coleman or Rep. Hobbs. They’re voting for Mike, Asa, Curtis or Debra.
The candidate who best makes that connection will get a new first name: Governor.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.