Democrats' Race for Arkansas Governor in '14 Unsettled (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Mar. 24, 2013 3:04 pm  

While a Ross candidacy may excite some Democrats worried about the party's chances to keep the governor's mansion next year, a race between him and Halter could expose some of the party divisions that Republicans are all too eager to exploit next year. The GOP face for the state's top office for now appears far more settled, with former Congressman Asa Hutchinson and Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman running.

If he gets in, Ross is sure to have the backing of establishment Democrats who have sparred with Halter and are wary of his general election chances in a state that's moving more to the right. Halter in turn could win over the support of many on the left by painting Ross as too conservative. A member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, Ross was one of the leading Democrats to oppose President Barack Obama's health care plan in 2009 and early 2010.

It's a fight where both may be able to dust off their favorite campaign lines from the past few years.

"I'm proud to be running as a Democrat," Halter said during his unsuccessful 2010 primary challenge against Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a race where he highlighted Lincoln's opposition to her party's national initiatives on issues such as health care and air pollution regulations. "I don't run away from that label."

It's a rallying cry that could work for Democrats frustrated by the dramatic policy shifts at the Legislature after Republicans took over. But it could also give Ross a chance to tout himself as the most electable candidate in the mold of Beebe and Pryor.

But Ross will first have to explain his shift back to a race that he said he was too burnt out to try.

"You never say never, but I think 2014 was my year, and I think we had a decent shot at winning," Ross said last year.

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