Wow, it was quite a week on the AR-AG 2014 campaign front. Let’s get caught up on this race together before I bring you the latest on another pending announcement . . .
Attorney David Sterling (Campaign Site)
With incumbent Democrat Dustin McDaniel term-limited, and that insufferable red tide blowing behind state Republicans, it was no surprise to see the them come out swingin’ in the race for attorney general, especially considering this was the one state constitutional office Doyle Webb & Co. missed the boat on in their 2012 anyone-with-“R” ballot takeover. First, we had the early-May campaign announcement from North Little Rock attorney David Sterling, presumably representing the far-right/Curtis Coleman contingent of the party.
Attorney Leslie Rutledge
With no actual movement in the race for almost two months (beyond a lot of gossip among we politicos), the presumed insiders-pick finally emerged last week as Little Rock attorney Leslie Rutledge, a former Mike Huckabee and national GOP organizer originally from Batesville, entered the race with some gusto in a multi-city state tour. (Talk Business has also reported that Arkansas Poultry Federation lobbyist Marvin Childers, a former GOP legislator from Blytheville, is considering entering the race, and several have mentioned Faulkner Country prosecutor Cody Hiland and politically-connected State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson as serious possibilities as well.)
Despite the setbacks of the last two election cycles, there has seemingly been some much-needed life breathed back into the state Democratic party of late, largely on activist-reaction to the embarrassing social issue setbacks from the last legislative session, national progress on some of those very same social issues, much-improved communication and GOP-response coordination, and a “refreshed” set of attractive young candidates coming out of the legislative and legal ranks who are considering running for office. Not to be outdone, with the emergence of the formidable Rutledge, Matt Campbell of Blue Hog Report broke news last Friday regarding the pending addition of one such Democrat to this race:
According to a couple well-placed Democrat sources, State Rep. Nate Steel will announce his candidacy for Arkansas Attorney General next week, most likely on Wednesday.
I have been a huge fan of Nate Steel’s since I broke the legislative-reimbursement story in 2011 and found that he was one of the five legislators who were not abusing the system for extra income. A native of Nashville, AR, Steel would present a serious challenger for any of the rumored Republican candidates.
Ok, so now that we’re all up to speed on what has been made official or been “seriously” speculated on, time for the latest on a would-be entry for Democrats. With sources telling me that some Democratic donors were reaching out to William “Zac” White, an attorney and recent state senate race runner-up from Heber Springs, about joining this primary race, I reached out to him to ask about the rumors. White, a colleague and friend of mine going back to our first year at the Bowen School of Law ten years ago, has since confirmed to me that he is indeed pondering such a decision and expects to make a formal announcement about his intentions by Tuesday of this week.
Attorney Zac White
Though falling short in the uphill battle he entered in 2012 against incumbent State Sen. Missy Irvin, White earned a lot of respect for the sort of press-the-flesh campaign style he ran, picking up several big endorsements and positive press along the way as he was the first candidate to formally back campaign finance reform efforts, and ran a campaign that focused on largely bi-partisan issues like government ethics, protecting natural resources, and supporting public schools. In the end, his candidacy was hurt by Missy’s name recognition, her sources of outside funding, the general red state trend, and the fact that there was another White (“independent” libertarian candidate Paul White) in the race. Within Democratic circles, White has proven to be a very reliable fundraiser as he held prominent posts in previous grassroots campaigns of Paul Suskie and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
Passing the torch to Steel? Not so fast, if White enters the race.
What does this mean for the overall race? For the Democratic primary? While some may see Steel as the early front-runner and seemingly the Dems establishment candidate based on his success in the state legislature and his existing campaign organizational structure, this race could actually be quite reminiscent of the epic 2006 clash between then presumed party nominee McDaniel and his upstart challenger, the aforementioned Paul Suskie, who you all remember was the Iraq War veteran who forced an unexpected runoff that June and lost by just a couple of thousand votes. (McDaniel, of course, went on to crush Republican Gunner Delay that November.) Although I feel Steel has done a fine job as representative and would present a quality candidate up to the task of a statewide race versus the ARGOP machine, it is this blogger’s opinion that Dems would be very well-served in having a primary-tested candidate to take on Rutledge (or whoever Joan/John Q. Republican ends up being) in November.
U.S. Attorney for Arkansas’s Eastern District, Chris Thyer
Could there be a real domino effect from White entering the AG race, too? With two candidates possibly announcing formal bids for AG this week, perhaps this makes a run for AR-02 v. Timmy Griffin the more attractive course of action for State Rep. John Edwards. Such a move by White would also be one less potential challenger in AR-01, making it that much more likely that Chris Thyer, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District making big headlines in recent months (Exxon spill, Shoffner prosecution, etc.), could make a run as Roll Call first speculated. You may remember he was appointed by President Obama nearly two and half years ago after serving three terms in the Arkansas House. They also touted the pending candidacy of State Rep. Marshall Wright, however, since then a recent blog post from Michael Cook has all but ended those rumors. Admittedly, I guess I had missed the gathering storm of activist excitement behind Wright during the course of the legislative session. Or perhaps not, as it stands now.