LITTLE ROCK — Arkansans will be inundated with an unprecedented amount of political advertising between now and the Nov. 4 election, Republican candidate for governor Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansans will be inundated with an unprecedented amount of political advertising between now and the Nov. 4 election, Republican candidate for governor Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday.

In a talk to the Political Animals Club in Little Rock, the former 3rd District congressman also weighed in on a controversy over cross symbols on football helmets at Arkansas State University.

"The outside money that will be spent in both the Senate race and the governor’s race that we have no control over, the amount of money the candidates will spend, along with the congressional candidates … as well as the other constitutional officers — there’s going to be well over $16 million spent in television and media advertising over the next 50 days." Hutchinson said. "Arkansas has never seen anything like that."

Hutchinson later told reporters the $16 million figure he cited is based on his own calculations.

Hutchinson is vying for the governor’s seat with Democrat Mike Ross, a former 4th District congressman, and two lesser-known opponents, Green Party candidate Joshua Drake and Libertarian Frank Gilbert. Hutchinson and Ross have both been targeted by outside groups’ attack ads that fact checkers have debunked.

With so much advertising on the airwaves, "I think it’s more important than ever that our positive message gets out," Hutchinson told the club Wednesday. "There’s a lot of things I can’t control in the last 50 days of this campaign, but there’s one thing that I can control, and that is my own messaging."

He invoked the optimism of former President Ronald Reagan and said, "I hope you can see in my heart the optimism I have for the state of Arkansas. Our best days are ahead: Times of economic growth, but making sure that the opportunities for our young people and our grandchildren are right here in this state."

Ross has called on Hutchinson to denounce an ad by the Republican Governors Association that implies Ross received an inflated amount for the 2007 sale of his family pharmacy in Prescott, a charge Ross has called "slanderous." The ad mentions "an investigation" but fails to note that the House Ethics Committee concluded that the sale price of $420,000 was fair market value and cleared Ross of any wrongdoing.

Hutchinson told reporters Wednesday he has not denounced any outside groups’ ads because he is focused on his own message.

"I don’t know any of the facts," he said "I haven’t looked at it. It hasn’t been a focused part of the campaign. I’m just concentrating on our message. I have to worry about what our media advertisement is."

Reporters also asked Hutchinson about a controversy over Arkansas State University’s decision to remove cross symbols from football players’ helmets. The crosses were intended to honor former team member Markel Owens, who died of a gunshot wound in Jackson, Tenn., and former team manager Barry Weyer, who died in a car accident.

"I share the concern of the students that were trying to do something to remember their friends and fellow competitors that lost their lives," Hutchinson said. "That’s what students do, and that’s how they wanted to remember, and the students ought to have the freedom to do that."

Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, said he understood that ASU was acting on legal advice but said he believed student-initiated use of a religious symbol would fall under permissible free speech.

ASU said Wednesday the crosses constituted government speech, not student-initiated speech, and were removed to avoid conflicting with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In a letter to the Liberty Institute, which had complained about the removal of the crosses, ASU System President Charles Welch and university counsel Lucinda McDaniel said the head football coach designed a cross decal and that the coaching staff and a group of players placed an order for the decals, to be paid for with public funds.

"The foregoing facts make clear that the stickers were officially sponsored," they said in the letter.

Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, said the attorney general’s office is advising ASU on the matter.