Robert Coon, Blake Rutherford Weigh In On Tuesday's Arkansas Primary

by Robert Coon, Blake Rutherford and Lance Turner  on Wednesday, May. 21, 2014 3:14 pm  

(Photo by Beth Hall)

In regard to the general election in November, I would expect outside expenditures to continue — and increase — as the races for U.S. Senate and governor arrive on the main stage. At the legislative level, some of the groups that engaged in a more limited fashion in the primary — like Americans For Prosperity and Conduit for Commerce — will likely have a much larger field of play to engage, and I would expect them to broaden their efforts considerably.

The Elephants In The Room

Lance: Let’s go ahead and talk about the races for governor and U.S. Senate. First, governor: What’s the big choice Arkansas voters face in the gubernatorial election? Is this a race about tax policy and the private option, or are we doomed to re-litigate Clinton-era scandals? And what’s the best case they can make to the business community for its vote?

Robert: As much as I think we’d all like to enjoy a short break, there’s no rest for the weary. The 2014 governor’s race officially starts today. 

In my view this election is going to come down to the visions that each of these candidates have for the state. Sure, tax policy — and to a lesser extent the private option — will come into play, but it’s much bigger than that. While the candidates have to lay out specifics, they also have to sell voters on their overarching vision of where they want to take the state of Arkansas and integrate those specific priorities into those visions. 

No doubt that Ross’ side will try and remind voters of Hutchinson’s involvement in the Clinton impeachment proceedings. But while Clinton is still widely liked across the state, Arkansas is not the same state it was the last time Hutchinson was on the ballot, and many voters may not be persuaded by that old attack anymore.  

In order to get business community support, they’ll have to show that they understand what it takes to create a business-friendly environment that makes Arkansas competitive with neighboring states. Ross scored some early points with the business community for his support of reducing and removing the sales tax on repair and replacement parts. Thats a major cost disadvantage for companies doing business in Arkansas compared to other states. Hutchinson, on the other hand, has made perhaps the No. 1 priority of Arkansas businesses — improved and expanded workforce training and technical education — a cornerstone of his campaign, and could reap the benefits of that campaign plank as he expands that message to business owners across the state.

Blake: Last night Asa Hutchinson said he wanted to be the "jobs governor" and Mike Ross said he wanted to be the "education governor." It sounds like both candidates are angling for a piece of the Mike Beebe platform and legacy, which should make the current governor smile a bit. 

That said, I believe Hutchinson's tax plan has the potential to resonate more with the electorate, although I don't believe it's a suitable path to create jobs. Education reform, including reforming our tax system to help more children go to college, would have a far greater benefit on the economic life of our state, and that's what Ross aims to achieve. But he's going to have do more — and spend more — crafting that narrative. All together, it could create a fairly robust marketplace of ideas for the business community to consider, which is a good thing. 

That said, Hutchinson's victory speech was telling. Ahead in the polls, he chose to go negative, describing Ross as a "Nancy Pelosi protege." If it is a theme — albeit a tired one — Hutchinson intends to pursue this fall, I think the electorate should expect Ross to fight back. The time both men spent in Congress is relevant to a degree, and that includes Hutchinson's work as an anti-Bill Clinton impeachment manager. How much of either will influence the average voter is unknown at this point, but I do think the Clinton brand will have a part to play in this race.



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