Arkansas and the Democratic Party: Life after Bill Clinton
by v2aggie2, Sun Aug 14, 2005 at 10:49:12 AM EDT
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.
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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