Bill Halter Quits Race for Governor to Avoid 'Divisive Primary'

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 10:05 am  

Bill Halter

LITTLE ROCK — Former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter dropped out of the race for Arkansas governor on Monday, saying he wanted to avoid a divisive primary with former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross for the Democratic nomination in 2014.

Halter, who entered the race in January, told supporters in an email that he was ending his bid for the state's top office. A spokesman for Halter said the former lieutenant governor would not be available for further comment.

"But since we announced our gubernatorial campaign another strong candidate has entered the primary election and in order to avoid a divisive primary and to help unite the Democratic Party, I am ending my campaign for Governor," Halter wrote. "I congratulate Mike Ross on a great start to his campaign and I will be working hard to elect him and other Democratic nominees for office in the coming election."

Halter had been mentioned during his gubernatorial bid as a potential challenger to Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin for a central Arkansas congressional seat. But neither Halter nor his spokesman, Bud Jackson, said whether he was looking at any other races.

"We're not going to play the rumor game that has been going on ever since he first entered the race," Jackson said

Halter announced he was running for governor on Jan. 25, the same day Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said he was dropping out of the race over questions about an extramarital relationship. Ross, who had initially passed on a run for governor, announced his bid April 15.

Halter's announcement comes two weeks after fundraising reports showed he was far behind Ross in the hunt for donors. Ross announced he had raised nearly $2 million during the quarter, while Halter had raised only $102,900. Most of the money Halter had in the bank was from a $640,000 loan he made to his campaign in March.

Ross said Halter called him earlier Monday and welcomed the former lieutenant governor's supporters to his campaign.

"I thanked him for his many years of service to the state of Arkansas, and said that I hope he continues to pursue public service," Ross said in a statement released by his campaign. "It's clear Bill loves Arkansas and cares deeply for the people of this great state."

The decision leaves Ross as the only candidate for the Democratic nomination and boosts his party's hopes after recent Republican gains in the state. Republicans won control of the state Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction in November, and the GOP swept all four of the state's U.S. House seats.

Former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, state Rep. Debra Hobbs and Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman are seeking the Republican nomination.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe is barred by term limits from seeking re-election next year.

Halter, a former Clinton administration official, ran briefly against Beebe for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2006 before dropping out of that race to seek the lieutenant governor's office. Just as he did Monday, Halter cited a desire to avoid a divisive fight within the party as his reason for leaving the governor's race.

With the support of labor unions and activists, Halter in 2010 challenged U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln for the Democratic nomination. He lost in a runoff to Lincoln, who was defeated in her re-election bid that fall.

Halter won the lieutenant governor's race in 2006, after campaigning primarily on his support for a lottery to fund college scholarships. Halter championed the amendment setting up the lottery that voters approved in 2008. Arkansas began selling tickets in 2009.

During his bid for governor this year, Halter called for expanding that scholarship program so it would allow high school graduates who maintain a 2.5 GPA to be able to attend most of the state's colleges and universities tuition-free.

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