LITTLE ROCK — Republican candidates for lieutenant governor who based their decision to run on Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s decision to run for Congress are waiting to see whether they are in a race with Darr after all.
State Reps. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, and Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, waited until after Darr announced as a candidate for the 4th District congressional seat to launch their bids for lieutenant governor in what then appeared to be an open race.
But Darr announced Thursday that he was dropping out of the 4th District race, a decision that came after questions were raised about his reporting of hundreds of dollars of campaign expenditures at restaurants and gas stations not long after he took office. Darr has filed an ethics complaint against himself and said he will file corrected reports to show that the expenditures were intended to pay back loans he made to his campaign.
Darr has not said whether he will seek re-election or run for a different office.
Collins and Mayberry both say they will stay in the race even if they have to challenge Darr in the GOP primary.
"I’m a candidate for lieutenant governor, and I don’t see that changing," Collins said Friday.
Collins said that although he previously wanted to run only if Darr was not running, "the difference is I’m a candidate for lieutenant governor now. … Now I’m in this race."
Mayberry said Friday, "I did not want to run against Mark as the sitting lieutenant governor. I was waiting on him to make that decision, but then he made that decision, and then based on the decision he made to enter the congressional race I made a decision and a commitment to run for lieutenant governor, and I’m committed to that race now."
Darr did not sound like a candidate for any office in the statement he issued Thursday announcing his decision to drop out of the congressional race.
"I feel that my priority needs to be focused on my family and sometimes trying to achieve titles gets in the way of that," he said in the statement. "I look forward to serving out my current term as lieutenant governor and helping my friends get elected or re-elected should they desire my assistance."
"It reads like he’s not planning to run for re-election," said Bill Vickery, a Little Rock-based Republican political consultant, though he added that "I have no idea what’s on his mind."
Vickery said that if Darr does decide to seek a second term as lieutenant governor or run for another state office, the questions about his campaign finance reports might be less problematic for him than they would have been in a congressional race.
"A congressional primary would have more spent in it and more money raised and more money surrounding it than, let’s say, a lieutenant governor’s primary here in Arkansas," Vickery said.
Some of that higher spending in a congressional primary presumably would go toward spotlighting Darr’s campaign finance issues, whereas in a state race those issues might escape the average voter’s awareness, he said.
"A hardcore group of 2,500 politicos scattered around Arkansas, we live and breathe this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In a campaign, unless there is some legal issue or the press itself take it on as a cause celebre, how do others know about it and care about it unless it’s on television and in their face?" he said.
Businessman John Burkhalter of Little Rock, a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission, is the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor. Republican Conrad Reynolds, a retired Army colonel who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010, has said he is considering seeking the office.