Questions Linger on Dustin McDaniel's Political Future (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012 9:29 am  

Dustin McDaniel's bid for a Democratic nomination that once seemed all but assured is in jeopardy.

LITTLE ROCK — With more than $1 million raised and a six-month head start on his rivals, Dustin McDaniel was poised to be the last hope for a Democratic Party that's struggling for survival in Arkansas. But the attorney general's admission of an extramarital relationship could turn him into another cautionary tale of Arkansas politics.

McDaniel's admission of an inappropriate relationship with a Hot Springs attorney eliminates the advantage his name recognition and fundraising prowess had given him over a long list of potential rivals for a race that's two years away. Instead of coasting through a party primary and gearing up for a close general election, he now has to prove to party faithful that he can survive a scandal of his own making.

McDaniel, who has been married since 2009, last week acknowledged a relationship with Andrea L. Davis, a Hot Springs attorney who represented a group of parents in a lawsuit over the state's school choice law. His admission came after Davis' ex-husband, in court filings, alleged an affair between the two.

"With respect to Ms. Davis, I met her during the 2010 campaign. I had limited interaction with her in 2011, some of which I regret to say was inappropriate," McDaniel said in a statement.

The admission came less than a week after McDaniel's campaign touted his strength against potential rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2014, saying internal polling showed him leading former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter.

"We are off to a strong start. A lot will happen over the next two years and it is critical that we have the resources to make our case and turn back the inevitable attacks to come," McDaniel said in a fundraising email days before his admission. "That is why building a strong campaign war-chest at this time is so critical."

Now, his bid for a Democratic nomination that once seemed all but assured is in jeopardy. A general election fight that was already a challenge after a Republican takeover of the state Legislature is now even more daunting for McDaniel.

Not Over Yet

Political observers say McDaniel's candidacy is clearly in peril, but aren't ready to write him off completely yet.

"It's detrimental to his candidacy, but I don't think it destroys it in and of itself," said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University.

Bass and other political observers say McDaniel is at least cushioned by the fact that he's a known quantity in the state, and that the relationship isn't the only thing voters know about him. But will that be enough to stem the damage?

History may not be on McDaniel's side. Arkansas is the home state of Bill Clinton, the most well-known politician to survive after admitting infidelity, but the state has an even longer list of officeholders who have seen their hopes dashed by personal shortcomings.



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