Posted 1/6/2013 05:33 pm
Updated 11 months ago
LITTLE ROCK — Asa?
Asa Hutchinson, the former congressman and the only announced Republican candidate for Arkansas' 2014 governor's race, hasn't changed much since his unsuccessful bid for the state's top office nearly seven years ago.
This is still the candidate who's lost three bids at statewide office. He's a longtime lawyer who seems more at home in a courtroom than at campaign rallies. And he's still the former lawmaker who helped prosecute the impeachment case against Arkansas' favorite political son.
He is also the same low-key politician despite using an exclamation point in his campaign materials — Asa!
And while his resume hasn't changed, he is hopeful that his state has. He'll be the first to tell you that's what makes his new campaign so attractive.
"That was then. This is now," Hutchinson said last week. "It's not what I do differently, but how much the political climate has changed."
For someone whose public service career goes back to his days as a U.S. attorney appointed by Ronald Reagan, the climate doesn't get much better than this.
Hutchinson is launching his gubernatorial bid after an election where Republicans won control of the House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction and swept all four of the state's U.S. House seats.
The former congressman also joins a race that's been rocked by Democratic candidate and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's admission that he had an extramarital relationship with a Hot Springs lawyer who had handled cases McDaniel's office defended.
McDaniel has remained out of the public eye since admitting the relationship with Andrea Davis, refusing repeated requests for interviews and avoiding public events while questions still loom about the impact the relationship had on the cases.
But Hutchinson — like the potential candidates eyeing a bid for governor — says he isn't focusing on the relationship as an issue in the race.
"The issues that I think are there are jobs and education," he said.
Hutchinson enters the race as a favorite for his party's nomination, especially with his roots in Republican-heavy northwest Arkansas. He's built up goodwill among the party's faithful by supporting candidates during the 2012 races.
His work on a National Rifle Association initiative to study school safety and push for armed guards in schools allows him to tout his pro-gun credentials in a state where Democrats and Republicans alike boast of their gun collections in political ads.
Hutchinson, however, still faces a tough road ahead in his run. Encouraged by McDaniel's woes and recent electoral gains, several Republicans are still mulling a bid for the state's top office. They include Curtis Coleman, the North Little Rock businessman who filed papers last week to explore a gubernatorial bid.
Despite the personal problems, McDaniel still enjoys a head start in organization and fundraising over Hutchinson. Since launching his bid last June, McDaniel has raised more than $1 million and campaign finance reports to be filed in the coming days will show how he fared before his scandal broke last year.
With a network of support from his past bids and Republicans nationally eyeing the race as a chance to turn Arkansas completely red, Hutchinson is shrugging off the notion that he'll start at a disadvantage when it comes to campaign cash.
"The money is going to be there. It's such an important race," he said. "I don't anticipate a challenge in catching up on the fundraising side."
Hutchinson isn't offering many clues on what he'll run on when he makes his bid official, but a glance at his 2006 campaign provides some clue about his policy ideas — and potential lines of attack against him.
In his unsuccessful bid against Democrat Mike Beebe, Hutchinson sounded many of the same anti-tax themes that Republicans are sounding as they prepare to take control of the state Legislature. He railed against the state's tax structure as "shockingly not competitive" and called for reforms to the state's income tax code.
"We cannot tax ourselves into prosperity and we cannot spend ourselves into prosperity," Hutchinson said.
But Hutchinson stumbled on the issue of taxes early in his campaign, initially saying that a cut in the state's grocery tax wasn't part of his agenda. He later called for a complete elimination of the tax, as opposed to the phased-out cut that Beebe ran on. Beebe regularly accused Hutchinson of flip-flopping on the tax issue during the campaign.
Hutchinson also faced criticism from Democrats for his role as one of the House prosecutors in the impeachment trial against former President Bill Clinton, a role he didn't mention often on the campaign trail.
"I think the people of Arkansas understand what I did was out of conviction that I tried to help our country in a difficult time," he said in 2006. "Once that's over, they're not interested in it."
Those obstacles may still remain for Hutchinson in this latest bid. But he's no longer running against a well-liked veteran of the state Senate like Beebe, and he's no longer running in a state that Democrats can claim as their last stronghold in the South.
"It's a different day and time," Hutchinson said.
The coming months will determine whether it's Hutchinson's day and time.
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