Hutchinson vs. Ross, er, Obama (Blake Rutherford On Politics)

by Blake Rutherford  on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 1:55 pm  

Blake Rutherford

Republicans made strides in Arkansas during the last two elections. They hold a majority in the House, albeit a narrow one, for the first time in history. By winning hotly contested races in 2010 and 2012, they also amassed a majority in the Senate.

Those victories solidified a new and deep-seated base coalesced around a broad mistrust of federal government. New faces became key players as well-funded third-party political groups began an ambitious effort to restructure power. More time and money was spent attempting to nationalize local elections. Digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook became 24-hour channels for compulsive criticism of President Obama.

It's no revelation to say that the shift in attitude and direction of the Arkansas GOP coincides with the public's disapproval of the president. By the end of 2013, Gallup found the annualized average of the president’s approval rating in Arkansas to be 34.9 percent.

Today in Arkansas, Republicans appear to think that the admixture of Obama and state issues is a potion sufficient to poison the political climate for Democrats, but especially for Mike Ross, who is running for governor against Asa Hutchinson.

I'm apprehensive about going that far because Arkansas voters have a long history of determining the differences between the president and Congress, and candidates seeking the governor's office. 

The 1994 midterm election comes to mind.

That year, amid a fierce backlash against a Democratic Party that controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, Republican Sheffield Nelson waged his second bid for governor (he lost to Bill Clinton in 1990). By the end of the summer of 1994, President Clinton's approval rating was 39 percent.   

It turned out to be a wave election: Republicans won 54 House seats, 8 Senate seats, 12 gubernatorial offices, and 472 state legislative seats. After it was over, the GOP controlled the House for the first time in 40 years; a majority of the governorships for the first time in 22 years; and a majority of state legislatures for the first time in 50 years.

Yet Nelson lost to Jim Guy Tucker, a Democrat who was lieutenant governor under Clinton, by 19 points.

But here's the thing about the 2014 election: There's a disparity in attitudes toward federal and state government. Recent national polls by Gallup found that while 62 percent approved of their state government and 71 percent approved of their local government, only 13 percent approved of how Congress was doing its job

And Arkansans appear to be optimistic about their state's future as well. In October, the Arkansas Poll found that 63 percent of respondents thought Arkansas was headed in the right direction.

Hutchinson, a three-time statewide candidate and former co-chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, had early standing in the race (he led 43 percent to 38 percent in February, and 41 percent to 37 percent in October).



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