Arkansas primary analysis

Now that the dust has settled and I’ve had time to reflect, I wanted to post a quick analysis of what happened in Arkansas last night, from a progressive Arkie’s perspective.  Keep in mind, this is only meant to be an analysis of last night, and of nothing that’s to come.  I don’t think it’s a perfect analysis, but it is my take.

First, let’s start with the biggie, the AR-Sen race.

Dem primary-Obviously, it was a big night for Halter supporters like myself.  Bill cleaned up in places I never imagined-dominating southwest Arkansas and picking up counties in Lincoln’s home turf-Cross, St. Francis, Greene, Poinsett, etc.  What was odd was the fact that Lincoln won a few places where Halter was thought to be running strong in, namely Pulaski County, where Halter is from.  There’s an interesting explanation for this, and I wouldn’t have thought of it myself if one of my associates on Blue Arkansas hadn’t pointed it out.  Halter is running an anti-establishment campaign.  You don’t get more establishment in Arkansas Democratic politics than Pulaski County.  There has been a charge put out there that Halter drew in “GOP good ol’ boys”.  It’s true that Halter did do better in rural, more conservative areas (which should put the electability suggestion Lincoln is trying to peddle to rest).  However, I don’t think these count as Republican voters per se.  They are socially conservative, but they don’t necessarily think government doesn’t work.  They just think it’s not working for them.  Halter’s populist message, I think, is resonating.

GOPer primary-With all the excitement on the Dem side, John Boozman was able to quietly walk to victory.  Gilbert Baker’s campaign flamed out as he got more desperate for attention, becoming incredibly ridiculous.  (Go to youtube and type in “sexy Arkansas cheerleader politician”.)  The real drama, if there was any, was waiting to see if Jim Holt pulled into a runoff.  If that had happened, Boozman could have been the next Trey Grayson.  Sadly, it wasn’t to be.


Dems-former state senator Tim Wooldridge and Berry CoS Chad Causey have advanced to the runoff.  We at Blue Arkansas were backing State Representative David Cook, a more progressive, populist style candidate, but he ended up placing third, the cash advantage being the problem.  Wooldridge made it to this runoff by virtue of his name recognition from his Lt. Gov race against Halter.  Causey by his connections to Berry.

GOP-Rick Crawford easily beat my old high school classmate Princella Smith.  How many Republicans in Arkansas do you think really were enthusiastic about voting for a black woman?


Dems-State senator Joyce Elliott (a progressive hero in the state) surged to an incredibly high total in the initial primary that no one had expected.  State house speaker Robbie Wills won everywhere outside Pulaski County, but not by impressive margins.  High African American and progressive turnout was responsible for the Elliott surge.

GOP-Tim Griffin easily raised/spent far more money than his opponent, who did have some significan endorsements from folks like Mike Huckabee, the cash advantage carrying him over.


GOP primary-Weird dynamics in this one.  Steve Womack (Rogers mayor) has been labeled as a RINO in the primary.  Keep in mind, this is a man who’s so nutty on immigration George Bush said he was an extremist.  Cecile Bledsoe managed to inch past Gunner Delay to challenge Womack in the runoff.

Statewide offices:

Two statewide office races were particularly noteworthy, the Secretary of State race and the Land Commissioner’s race.  In both races, young, more progressive minded candidate running on ideas (Pulaski county clerk Pat O’Brien and businessman L.J. Bryant respectively) both surged to face establishment candidates in the Dem runoff (current Land Comm. Mark Wilcox in the SoS race and state rep. Monty Davenport in the Land Commissioner’s race).  This is a big deal, as these offices are usually where Arkansas sends old politicians to retire, as in the case of our former Land Commissioner, current Sec. of State, and future Auditor Charlie Daniels.  The fact that more issues oriented progressive policy wonks did so well last night is a huge deal for the state.

State legislature-Nothing dramatic on the state legislative front, except for maybe two things.  The large black turnout in Pulaski county lead to the defeat of state representative Richard Carroll, the former Green turned Democrat, at the hands of state senator Tracy Steele.  The saddest blow was this-Jay Barth, a great progressive running to be the first openly gay man elected to the state senate, was defeated after his opponent Linda Poindexter Chesterfield, ran an ad raising his sexual orientation and accusing him of racism for questioning her missed votes as a state rep.  (Chesterfield is black and said that doing so amounted to playing to the stereotype of blacks as lazy.)  For me, that was the lowest moment of the night.  However, there was one good moment as Fayetteville sent a true progressive to the legislature, Greg Leding.

AR-01: Meet David Cook

For the longest time, I thought I wasn’t going to have anyone in the Dem primary for my district that I could vote for without holding my nose.  Almost all (and yes, this post is about the one exception) of the Democratic candidates, without failing, have come out against health care reform, EFCA, so on and so forth.  The presumed front runner is the worse, going above on beyond even being a conservative Democrat, sitting on the board of a hate group and introducing a bill to bring back public hangings in the legislature:…

Now this is a district where a bit of conservatism (social conservatism-it has a New Deal style populism) is necessary.  For example, no candidate is going to get anywhere saying anything bad about guns.  But these goons are going overboard, big time.

But there’s one candidate in the race that’s talking like a Democrat, acting like a Democrat, and is not ashamed to say that he is, in fact, a Democrat.  And if the only poll is to be believed, it’s helping him pick up substantial support.

Meet state representative David Cook.

I interviewed Representative Cook for Blue Arkansas, and walked away impressed.  He’s not the most polished or charismatic candidate, and he’s not what a lot of you guys would consider liberal.  But by Arkansas standards, he’s really good.  Go ahead, watch for yourself:…

David Cook is the only candidate in this race who said he would have voted for health care reform.  He stood up for EFCA at the second debate, the only candidate to say he’d support it, and people sat up and took notice when he started talking (surprisingly poetically) about all the things that unions and working people have done for this country.   You could tell by the reactions, the way he did it A) resonated with the audience, and B) set him apart from the other candidates who are all trying to mimic each other.  What’s more, he’s leading on the issue of taxing excessive bonuses of the bailout firms, and while he is socially conservative enough not to drive away voters in this district (he’s very pro-gun, which is a must here, and his abortion record is largely conservative as well) he did answer my questions on ENDA and DADT in ways that satisfied this gay man.  In other words, he’s conservative enough to be a good fit for this district, but he has a populist streak that makes him a very appealing option.

What’s more, Cook is running a great grassroots campaign, and I really am impressed by how much harder he’s working than everyone in the district.  I’ve had a chance to take a good look at everyone’s operation here, and his is better even than the candidates that have bigger wallets.  Arkansas, especially this part of Arkansas, is one of those increasingly rare anachronisms in this country where retail politics matters more that big advertising campaigns, and if the only poll taken so far is any indication, Cook’s approach has landed him in second place (with lots of undecideds to reach):…

I could go on and on about Representative Cook, but I’ll let him speak for himself.  This is the message he relayed to Blue Arkansas after we endorsed him:…

Read for yourself, and tell me this guy doesn’t have a great story to tell the voters of the 1st district.

   From the Office of David Cook for Congress

   I would like to take this opportunity to thank Blue Arkansas for their hard work and their dedication to Democrats everywhere. While we won’t see eye to eye on every issue, I have found that the staff here are fair and more than willing to give credit where credit is due, even if they don’t completely agree with the person. For these reasons, and many others, I am proud to have the official endorsement of Blue Arkansas.

   I want to specifically address something Blue Arkansas mentioned in their endorsement. They said it was my substance that made me different. I want to let you, the readers, know exactly what they meant by that. It isn’t my 5 years in the Navy. It isn’t my 6 years in the Legislature. It isn’t even my 32 years in education or my 3 college degrees. I am proud of all these things, but they aren’t what separate me from the other candidates. You know how, as parents, you read to your children? As a child, I read to my parents. I was born on the banks of the St. Francis River by midwife. Both of my parents were illiterate as neither had attended a day of school in their lives. My mother believed in America, she believed in Arkansas, and she believed that with a good education, a little luck, a little help and a whole lot of hard work that her children could have a better life than her. She made sure that her children went to school… but that wasn’t enough. We were dirt poor. From before I can remember, I went to school then came home and picked or chopped cotton till after dark. When I was 12 I got promoted to plowing behind a mule which was great because it meant I got a nickel raise. I worked hard to help support my family. I’ve put in spill-ways on rice levies with a shovel and a role of tar paper on my back. I’ve had to count the strips of bacon on my plate to make sure there was going to be enough food for the whole family to eat for the rest of the month.

   I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to be poor. I know what it’s like to be sick and have no money for health care or medicine. And I understand that there are a lot of hard-working, good Arkansans that aren’t looking for a hand-out… No, they just need a hand-up so they can work their way to a better life for themselves and their children. I know that without the hand-ups I received in my life, I might still be making my bed on that old river bottom today. For me a hand-up was my high school coach helping me out with food money or clothes and letting me work it off on his farm, or my high school sweetheart’s family finding the money to buy me another pair of shoes when my only pair was stolen out of a gym locker at college.

   These are more than just stories of my life. They have defined my life. These are WHY I spent 32 years as an educator. It’s WHY I went on to work as a Legislator. It’s WHY I voted to increase minimum wage, to reduce the grocery tax twice and to reduce health care cost for seniors. It’s WHY I worked so very hard to improve the educational environment for students and staff. And it’s WHY, when you send me to Congress, you can rest easy knowing that a man is there who gets it. You’ll know a real Arkansan with real Arkansas values is fighting like a scrappy dog to do everything he can to give you the hand-up you need for a better life.

This is a guy who could be a good Democrat in Congress.  This is a guy who can win in this district.  And unless you want to be complaining about a “Democrat” in Congress who sits on the board of a hate group, supported both Bush and Huckabee, and is still trying to explain why he wanted to bring back public hangings, you have every reason to throw ten or twenty dollars his way on ActBlue:…

(Full disclosure: I don’t work for the Cook campaign and neither does anyone that works with me at Blue Arkansas.  We are activists and supporters, and except for volunteering our time we don’t have any role in the campaign whatsoever.)

List of AR-01, 02, and 03 declared Democrats.

The number of Dems running for Congress here in Arkansas is getting rather crowded, so to keep confusion down I thought I’d list the names of all the declared candidates so far:

AR-01: Former state senator Tim Wooldridge, former Marion Berry chief of staff Chad Causey, state senator Steve Bryles, state representative David Cook, and some new guy named Ben Ponder.

AR-02: State senator Joyce Elliott, state house speaker Robbie Wills, former Vic Snyder chief of staff David Boling, deputy AG John Adams, and Patrick Kennedy (not the R.I. Congressman obviously).

AR-03: The only declared candidate (a couple of others are mulling) is former Fayetteville attorney David Whitaker.

In my original post on Blue Arkansas, you can follow links to the candidates’ websites (some good, others quite pathetic):…

AR-Sen: The rumor is that Bill Halter is in…

The rumor is buzzing around Arkansas that Lt. Gov Halter will challenge Blanche Lincoln in the primary.…

Again, there is no confirmation on this as of yet.  But the Draft Halter facebook group (including yours truly) did a phone bomb this week on Halter’s office and got a rather enthusiastic response from the staff.  All of us that called from the Draft group got the impression that if Halter saw that the support was there he’d run, and if this is true our efforts may have pushed him over the edge.  Here’s to hoping!

If you’re on facebook, you can join the Draft group here:….

UPDATE:Halter spokesman Bud Jackson: “Nothing has changed.  The lieutenant governor continues to focus on his re-election while also considering the available options to best serve Arkansans.”

Sounds like a big non-denial to me.

Developments in AR-02

Two potential candidates are out.

Little Rock mayor, Mike Stodola (who I honestly never expected to run anyway) has declared for reelection.

More surprisingly, veteran and former AG candidate, Paul Suskie, who was apparently laying the groundwork for the campaign, has opted out, citing family obligations and his current work.…

It’s a real shame about Suskie.  I’ve met the guy and, while we don’t agree on much, he’d have been a strong candidate and I genuinely like him on a personal level.

Right now the race is looking like a three person affair in the primary-

State House Speaker Robbie Wills is running.  So is Snyder’s chief of staff, David Boling.  And then there’s state senate majority leader Joyce Elliott, the only woman and African American in the feild, so far at least.

Some of the news coming out of AR-01

Been out of the loop the last few days and I’m just now getting around to talking about this.  First, let me assure everyone, Marion Berry did not leave because he was in danger of losing-his health, long something that’s been discussed among Democrats in the district, was the stated reason.  And trust me, the last time I saw the guy at an event (in 2008) he looked like a mummy.  It was time for him to retire long ago.  Still, despite some his conservative leanings, he was a great congressman and everyone in the district, except the Republicans (who could never come up with a coherent reason to run against him), likes him personally and has good things to say about him-he will be missed here.

That said, I know this district looks competitive on the surface, but from where I’m standing on the ground I don’t think it’s going to end up that way.  Republicans had one chance to make this race competitive, and that was to get state rep. Davey Carter in.  Carter has said that he absolutely will not be running, so we can rejoice that this one is off the table-the other potentials all being third tier candidates.

Now there are a ton of names being thrown around on the Dem side-basically every state rep. and state sen. that’s ever been in the district.  None of them really thrill me, but by now it’s no secret that I’m a lefty to lefties.  Anyway, here are the names I know for sure-

Former state party chair Jason Willett has long wanted this seat.  I don’t know where he stands issue wise but I do know that he was a good party chair, though an asshole by reputation.  He’d have the money to fund the race, but he came in a distant third when he ran for mayor of Jonesboro, the district’s largest town and my base of operations.

Former state senator Tim Wooldridge, a very conservative fence post who ran against Bill Halter in the ’06 primary.  He did well in the district during the initial primary, but he was hurt big among African Americans when it came out that he had jokingly proposed a bill to bring back public hangings.

Chad Causey, Berry’s cheif of staff, looks to run, apparently with Berry’s endorsement, which will help big time, though I can’t say I know much else about Causey.

Chris Thyer, the former state rep. of Jonesboro (long before I moved here), is definitely in.  Don’t know anything about him but I’m asking around.

And there are plenty of other names-I’ve heard every state legislator in the district mentioned and several former ones.  I’ll keep you guys posted as things develop.  The only name that really interests me is our State Treasurer, Martha Shoffner (one of my absolute favorite politicians due to her competence and accessibility).  She managed to win big in her race for Treasurer despite being underfunded because she excels at retail politics.  However, with the state budget and the economy being in the straits they are, she’ll probably run for reelection (if Berry had held out and retired next cycle I think she’d have been a shoe in though).

Two more things I want to say.

First, Dustin McDaniel was NEVER going to run for the House seat and everyone here new it.  His name entering this was just a case of name recognition and nothing more.  He wants to be Governor come ’14, and he may well be the favorite for that race.

Secondly, and this is just an interesting side note, one of the most talked about Republicans, who’s still third tier mind you, is Princella Smith, a self described moderate, African American, Republican active in the state party.  Now her bio in and of itself is interesting enough, but the funny thing is that I actually went to high school with her and my dad and her dad were close friends when they played on the Wynne football team back in the day.  How wild is all that?

Update on AR-02 race-who’s in, who’s out, who’s thinking about it

The AR-02 Democratic primary is shaping up rapidly.  Already, one candidate is on the verge of declaring, a few are openly considering, two appear to be out, and several new names are exploring.  Here’s the run down.

The declared candidate is State Senator Joyce Elliott, a remarkably skilled state legislator, very progressive, and the state’s most prominent and popular African American politician.

The hottest name in Arkansas politics right now, Lt. Gov Bill Halter says he’s weighing his options so he says.

State Senator Shane Broadway, the most respected senator in the state legislature, is out-reportedly planning on running for Lt. Gov if Halter declines to run for reelection.  Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola is also out.

House Speaker Robbie Wills and former AG candidate Paul Suskie are apparently considering, but keeping mum.

No word yet if State Senator Bob Johnson, the most conservative and corrupt Democrat you can imagine, is going to jump in or not.

Several new names are in the mix who I know nothing about, including Carolyn Staley, a minister, Snyder’s Chief of Staff David Boiling, and former state rep. Will Bond.

One big name rumored of late is one that took me and everyone else watching completely by surprise, former general and presidential candidate Wesley Clark is reportedly seriously considering the race.

You can keep up with all the developments at

AR-Gov race 2014: Looking down the road.

In politics, you’re never going to get too good of results looking way down the road.  But hey, that never stops us from trying, and my home state, Arkansas, is one of those fun little rural states where everyone knows everyone else and what folks are up to, which makes prognosticating easier.  Already there are signs of what’s to come in the governor’s race for 2014, once Beebe is done and moving on.  And since I’ve been doing some writing on one of the potential candidates on my own blog as of late I thought I’d do a quick write up.

The three candidates constantly mentioned for the 2014 race are Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, Lt. Governor Bill Halter, and Congressman Mike Ross.

McDaniel is a former state representative from Jonesboro, where I now live. He’s a lawyer and a former cop, and he has a huge base here in northeast Arkansas.  He’s generally considered fairly liberal by Arkansas standards, and he touted his prochoice position in order to win the AG primary in ’06.  But he has some faults-his ethics bill he proposed has a huge flaw in it in that it doubled the amount of money legislators could draw as a salary from campaign funds, and he’s gotten some criticism over using the state police helicopter improperly.

Halter worked in Bill Clinton’s administration before running for Governor in ’06, then dropping down to the Lt. Gov race.  He pissed a lot of people off in that campaign, coming in with a lot of out of state money, making no effort to woo the state machine, and there was some significant opposition to his signature issue, the state lottery.  However, while he certainly doesn’t carry himself with the humility and down home mannerisms that Arkansans expect of their politicians, there is something to be said for Halter being a different kind of politician.  He doesn’t think like the rest of the establishment, he’s definately more liberal for one, and his move on the lottery was largely opposed by the entire state establishment who were all quick to take credit for its passage.

Then there’s Mike Ross, the Congressman from southern Arkansas.  Ross is probably the most conservative of the three, and his votes on hate crimes and cap-and-trade the lately have made that much clear.  He thought about running in ’06 but yeilded to his old mentor Beebe, stating he couldn’t take the pay cut.  He could make the electability argument I guess, though the other two guys won statewide elections fairly easily and look to do so again next year, so I’m not sure it works.

So those are our three potential candidates.  I’m hoping someone else jumps in personally as none of these three appeal to me.  But we’ve got a long way to go until then, so we’ll see what happens.

CA-10: Victim of DADT running for Congress.

When Ellen Tauscher announced she was headed for the State Department it seemed there would be no shortage of Democrats running to replace her in this safe district, including California’s Lt. Gov, John Garamendi, who ducked out of the race for governor when he got no traction and decided not to contest Republican held CA-03.  Recently though, CNN’s Campbell Brown (bleck!) interviewed a candidate I hadn’t heard anything about until now, and after watching the clip I walked away impressed.…

Anthony Woods is impressive for many reasons.  Raised by a single mother, he went on to serve his country in two tours in Iraq, receive an education at Harvard and a Master’s degree from the Kennedy School of Government.  He was a co-recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Public Service Award and organized missions to help rebuild hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.  Hell, he spent a summer bicycling across the country to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.  But all that wasn’t good enough for his government.  Woods wanted to serve his country on a third tour of Iraq, but was discharged simply because he is gay.

Woods comes off as a very polished speaker, and he clearly knows from his interview with Brown how to avoid putting his foot in his mouth.  What’s more, the guy is well rounded, having worked as an economic policy advisor, giving him credibility on what is probably always the number one issue in a campaign.  Personally though, I’m excited about the possibility of sending a victim of DADT to Congress to give the LGBT community a voice and a face there for this unjust policy that Obama has, frankly, failed us on.  What’s more, Woods would be the first black-LGBT person elected to Congress and could potentially work to build bridges and initiate dialogue between two communities that don’t always see eye to eye.

The iceing on the cake???  Woods is a self-described progressive Democrat.  He’s a clear underdog in this race with plenty of big names and established politicians, but Woods has a lot of personal qualities that hint at the possibility of an upset.  Clearly, he’s someone we need to watch.