By Steve Brawner
This is the part of the calendar when elected officials often are more worried about campaigning than governing. That’s not the case with Gov. Asa Hutchinson – not yet, anyway.
Hutchinson’s apparent peace of mind – with the campaigning part of his job, anyway – was reflected during an Oct. 17 sit-down with reporters. With the Republican primary half a year away, he might have used the occasion to toss red meat to the base. Instead, he talked policy. He stated his opposition to using general revenues for highways. He also offered assurances that his Arkansas Works health program would not be harmed by President Trump’s ending some subsidies for insurance companies.
That’s boring government stuff, not campaign stuff.
Why is Hutchinson so comfortable with the state of his campaign? Several reasons.
No Democratic opponent
The first is that he still does not have a Democratic opponent. That party’s chairman, Rep. Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, has been saying for a while that a couple of potential candidates are considering running. So far no one has stepped forward. For perspective, the party’s nominee in 2014, Mike Ross, announced his campaign for governor on April 17, 2013 – six months earlier than this point.
The Democrats will find somebody because they must. Otherwise, they would have to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2020, becoming what the law calls a “new” party after two centuries of existence. Eventually some candidate will make a respectable effort. But each passing day increases the odds that the candidate will be what the Republican nominees once were: little more than a name with a letter beside it.
The second reason Hutchinson is comfortable is that even the strongest Democratic opponent would have little chance. Arkansas, particularly in national and state races, is now firmly a Republican state. All six members of the state’s congressional delegation, all seven constitutional officers, and three-fourths of state legislators are Republicans. It will take more than a charismatic candidate to change that.
The third reason is that Hutchinson has reported raising $1.55 million for his re-election campaign, with most of it still in the bank. That kind of war chest gives him a huge head start and discourages credible candidates from running against him. Potential opponents know the money is coming from two sources: Those who support Hutchinson, and those who believe he will win and want to stay on his good side. Either way, it spends.
But he apparently has a Republican challenger
If there’s anything that might make Hutchinson uncomfortable, it’s that it appears he has drawn a challenger in his own party. Jan Morgan, a Hot Springs gun range owner, is forming an exploratory committee and is asking for campaign donations.
Morgan is Sarah Palin without the subtlety. An effective self-promoter who doesn’t pull punches, she once made headlines declaring her business a Muslim-free zone and appears as a commentator on Fox News. This year, she told legislators with fire and fury that she would be their “worst nightmare” if they voted for an amendment allowing college football stadiums and campuses to restrict areas from concealed firearms. She will run an anti-establishment campaign and say Hutchinson is part of the establishment. She’ll accuse him of being a “RINO” – Republican In Name Only. I cannot imagine her winning. But then, I could not have imagined Trump being elected or Bernie Sanders hanging so tough with Hillary Clinton.
Primaries can make elected officials more uncomfortable than the general election. Turnout will be much lower in May and will be concentrated among the Republican base, which includes a lot of voters who agree with Morgan on guns. Hutchinson will try to ignore her because engaging her will take him places he doesn’t want to go. He’ll win, but eventually something she says or does, or some crazy poll number, will make him less comfortable.
Things like that usually happen in elections at some point in the calendar. For Hutchinson, not yet.
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.