Arkansas and the Democratic Party: Life after Bill Clinton

It’s easy to forget that once upon a time, Bill Clinton was not a distinguished ex-President living in New York as the husband of a sitting US Senator. Rather, he was the longtime governor of Arkansas (1979-1981 and 1983-1992). Then came 1992, and Clinton became President.  In the process, he ascended to the title of Arkansas' most accomplished political figure - if he hadn't already done so.  When one considers the fact that Arkansas gave the US Senate William Fulbright and Dale Bumpers, this isn't a distinction to be taken lightly.

With the presidency of Bill Clinton, however, the Arkansas Democratic Party was forced to enter a new era.  Filling the large shoes of Clinton would not be an easy task.

Clinton's successor was Democratic Lt. Governor Jim Guy Tucker.  Tucker would go on to win his 1st governor's election in 1994.

However, 1996, a year in which Clinton would win a 2nd term as President, the Arkansas Democratic Party would suffer two major defeats.  Following a felony conviction resulting from the Whitewater investigation, Tucker was forced by law to resign as Governor.  The new governor was Lt. Governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, who became the first GOP governor in Arkansas since 1983.  In addition, longtime Democratic US Senator David Pryor chose not to seek re-election in 1996.  Republican Tim Hutchinson won the open seat, becoming the first GOP US Senator from Arkansas since 1879.

Hence, 1996 was a year of irony in some ways.  A Democrat from Arkansas had won a 2nd term as President, but Arkansas Democrats lost 2 key races, and momentum seemed to be heading in the direction of the Republicans.

Now, let's fast forward to 1998.  Huckabee won his 1st governor's election - definitely not good news for Democrats.  In a case of déjà vu, longtime Democratic US Senator Dale Bumpers chose not to seek re-election in 1998.  This time, however, Democrat Blanche Lincoln won the open seat.  A loss in this race would have been devastating for Arkansas Democrats.  The GOP momentum had been neutralized.  

In 2000, Al Gore lost Arkansas.  It was devastating, quite frankly, to see Gore lose Bill Clinton's home state, particularly when a victory would have made him President.  This reinforced a strong perception that Arkansas was becoming a Republican state - if it wasn't already.

Lost in the disappointment of Gore's defeat, however, was the victory of Democrat Mike Ross over incumbent Republican Jay Dickey for the US House seat (4th District).  In the 2000 election, Ross was the only Democrat outside of California to defeat a Republican incumbent.  In the process, of the 4 members of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation, 3 were now Democrats.  During the Clinton Presidency (1993-2001), only 2 were Democrats.

In 2002, Huckabee won his 2nd term as governor.  However, Democrat Mark Pryor defeated Hutchinson and took back his father's US Senate seat.  Once again, both US Senators from Arkansas were Democrats.  

In 2004, I volunteered for the Arkansas Victory 2004 Coordinated Campaign in the Texarkana, Arkansas office (Mike Ross is the congressman for this district).  Sadly, John Kerry lost Arkansas. However, Blanche Lincoln won an easy re-election to the US Senate.  Mike Ross was so strong that he actually ran unopposed and won an easy re-election.  And our Democratic state representative candidate, Steve Harrelson, won an open race for the Arkansas State Legislature.  Since Texarkana is on the Texas state line, we also assisted with two Texas races, winning one (Democrat Steve Frost won a seat for the Texas State Legislature)

So here we are today.  Let's compare 2005 to 1993 in Arkansas, when Bill Clinton became President.


Governor:    Democrat (Jim Guy Tucker)
US Senator:    Democrat (David Pryor)
        Democrat (Dale Bumpers)
US Congress:    Democrat - 1st District (Blanche Lincoln)
        Democrat - 2nd District (Ray Thornton)
        Republican - 3rd District (Tim Hutchinson)
        Republican - 4th District (Jay Dickey)


Governor:    Republican (Mike Huckabee)
US Senator:    Democrat (Mark Pryor)
        Democrat (Blanche Lincoln)
US Congress:    Democrat - 1st District (Marion Berry)
        Democrat - 2nd District (Vic Snyder)
        Republican - 3rd District (John Boozman)
        Democrat - 4th District (Mike Ross)

A quick comparison shows that while we have lost the governor's seat, we have gained one US House seat.

In essence, the Arkansas Democratic Party has not lost any ground over the last 12 years.  Yes, it is disappointing that we don't have the governor's mansion.  Still, we hold 5 of the 7 top positions in Arkansas.  Speaking of the governor's mansion...

In 2006, Democratic Attorney General Mike Beebe will be the likely Democratic nominee for governor of Arkansas.  His GOP opponent will likely be either Asa Hutchinson or Win Rockerfeller.  A victory here would be huge for not only the Arkansas Democratic Party, but for Democrats everywhere.  In my view, this is one of the most critical governor races in 2006.

In conclusion, the Arkansas Democratic Party remains strong, and has an opportunity to become even stronger.  And just as important, it has managed to create an identity beyond Bill Clinton.  Don't get me wrong.  Bill will always be a legend in his home state.  But new faces have emerged.  Blanche Lincoln is probably the most preeminent Democrat in Arkansas these days, with Mark Pryor close behind.  And I think that things will only get better.

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Re: governor loss
It's tough to replace the king.
by Vote Hillary 2008 2005-08-14 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: governor loss
Very true.
by v2aggie2 2005-08-14 11:28AM | 0 recs
Another excellent history lesson v2aggie2
And much apprciated. It's always good to put things in their proper historical perspective. I'm a California transplant, but I'll put some effort in providing a similar historical perspective on California. It's entirely possible that there are more knowledgeable Californians here at MyDD, but I'll give it a shot.

I've noticed a lot of confusion over just how "blue" California is. Those of us in Orange County know just how conservative large swaths of California really are. I'm making some changes in my life so I can make a substantial committment to following and working on political campaigns and issues in Orange County. We'll see.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-08-14 02:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Another excellent history lesson v2aggie2
Thanks Gary!

As a former Californian, I am looking forward to your perspective on California.

You're right about Orange County.
It is a major hotbed of conservatism.
Everyone here in Texas thinks that all Californians are flaming liberals.  I grew up near Fresno, and I can safely say this is not the case.

by v2aggie2 2005-08-14 10:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Another excellent history lesson v2aggie2
We probably have more wingnuts in California than Alabama does. It's just that the sane Californians have them outnumbered.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-08-14 11:52PM | 0 recs
great piece v2aggie!
Great article v2. I hope we can take back the Gov's seat in 06.

This also shows that with a strong push in '08, we definitely have a shot at turning Arkansas Blue. Thanks for your fine analysis.

by labanman 2005-08-14 03:34PM | 0 recs
Asa Hutchinson, the Republican Nominee
I think Asa Hutchinson was the presumed Rebublican nominee for Arkansas Governor.   I think Win Rockefeller dropped out due to a serious blood disorder.
by robstephens 2005-08-14 04:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Asa Hutchinson, the Republican Nominee
Correct on Rockerfeller.

I was behind on my information.

by v2aggie2 2005-08-14 10:04PM | 0 recs


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