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.

They include Jim Hendren, who was the front-runner in a 2001 special election for a northwest Arkansas congressional seat until admitting a month before voting began that he had a yearlong affair with a married woman. Hendren, a Christian conservative family-values candidate, finished third in the GOP primary and conceded that publicity about his private life damaged his campaign.

The following year, Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson lost his re-election bid against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in a race that many believed hinged on Hutchinson's divorce from his wife of 29 years and his subsequent marriage to a former aide.

The biggest test will come in the following weeks and the details that come out about McDaniel's relationship with Davis. So far, he hasn't spoken publicly about the relationship and only after repeated requests from reporters did he give out phone and email records.

His office had previously acknowledged that Davis was the opposing counsel in five cases defended by McDaniel's office, including a school choice lawsuit that the state lost.

More Questions

McDaniel's office has said he wasn't directly involved in any of the cases and has said his relationship didn't harm the handling of the suits. It's unclear whether relationship could prompt a complaint before a state disciplinary panel for lawyers. If it does and he's found in violation of those rules, McDaniel could face a range of sanctions that include disbarment.

Questions also remain about Davis and her involvement in the investigation into the shooting death of a man found outside her home. Davis was questioned in the case, and police have not named any suspects. McDaniel's office has said it has had no involvement in the case and McDaniel never discussed it with her.

It may take longer to see the financial impact the relationship has had on McDaniel's campaign. His next campaign finance report due in January will only reflect a couple weeks after the disclosure, but a quarterly report in the spring may show whether donors have bolted.

It's also unclear where McDaniel's supporters go. Many of the establishment Democrats who have backed McDaniel may still hold hard feelings against Halter for his unsuccessful bid against former Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary two years ago. Burkhalter's name isn't widely known.

With retiring Congressman Mike Ross taking himself out of the gubernatorial race earlier this year, it leaves few big-name options for the party.

"All of a sudden you realize just how weak the Democratic bench for these statewide offices is," said Jay Barth, a political science professor for Hendrix College.

Political consultants say the next steps for McDaniel will be talking publicly about the relationship rather than offering a written statement that leaves more questions than answers. Part of that will include talking candidly with his staff and supporters about any other issues that may be lurking.

"There needs to be a very, very strong 'Come to Jesus' meeting with his campaign so it's all laid out on the table and they have an opportunity to strategize and move past those issues if they come up," said Debbie Willhite, a Democratic political consultant.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)



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