Win Paul Rockefeller is a powerfully good man, a proud son and devoted father and leader of Boy Scouts and public-spirited citizen of noble intentions and temperate instincts. I’m rooting as hard as I can for him to overpower this damnable affliction. May he come back to run another day, maybe when Republicans have overplayed their extremist hand and rediscovered the reason and wisdom of moderation.
Politically, Rockefeller’s withdrawal from the governor’s race will bear on the race only indirectly. He was not going to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Yes, I know: He would have had all the money in the world to try to drum up a new kind of Republican primary electorate. Yes, I know: The Democrats weren’t going to have a big primary, which might have enhanced his chances to draw new voters to the Republican side. Yes, I know: His daddy left him a brave legacy by which he might have won black votes.
But I learned long ago never to bet against the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary in Arkansas, nor against the one most identified with religious right-wingness, nor against the one strongest in Benton and Washington Counties, where Republican primaries have almost always been decided, and where people like Jim Holt run potently.
They are “movement” Republicans in Northwest Arkansas. “Movement” Republicans are uncompromising cultural conservatives, fired up by their megachurch preachers. They differ only in the degree of their extremism.
In a Rockefeller-Asa Hutchinson Republican gubernatorial primary, Hutchinson would have been the clear conservative. He would have been the clear religious right-winger. He would have been the homegrown candidate, the one who had represented the northwest corner in Congress.
Win Paul was the one at whose Little Rock home there’d been fund-raisers for Planned Parenthood. You can’t ever disavow that kind of transgression sufficiently for “movement” conservatives. There’s a passage in the Bible about an unpardonable sin. That may be it.
Hutchinson was going to pile up a bigger margin in the 3rd District than Win Paul could possibly have overcome everywhere else.
So, it was going to be Hutchinson against Mike Beebe, anyway.
The indirect effect of Rockefeller’s withdrawal is that Hutchinson can most likely now proceed to that general election without significant expenditure of energy and funds or weakening partisan fighting. Beebe will now proceed to that general election without the advantage of the only free ride to the back stretch.
It will be a whale of a race. A whale of race, I tell you.
We tend to elect governors for eight years, and we seldom have a governor’s race without an incumbent. So, this will determine patronage for nearly a decade. More importantly, it determines whether Arkansas stays mostly a moderate Democratic state for a while longer or advances its evolution into a church-right Republican one — Alabama West, if you will.
I envision the battle as much like the Mark Pryor-Tim Hutchinson U.S. Senate race. Beebe will seek to duplicate Pryor’s flawless campaign by which Pryor kept himself ingratiated with the farm and business communities that supplemented the reliable Democratic constituencies and delivered the victory margin.
Asa will not carry his brother’s hypocrisy burden of divorce and remarriage, but he will come into the race fully identified as a polarizing figure, the kind of Republican more feared by Democrats than the often moderate Mike Huckabee.
The race’s strongest early signal is that Beebe went out in a month and raised a million dollars. A pro-business and pro-farm Democrat, one in the culturally conservative style of Pryor and Mike Ross and whose rhetoric exasperates almost daily the more left-inclined Democrats, still ought to be able to eke out a statewide victory.