In Dante’s Inferno, one circle of Hell leads directly into another, bringing a new method of torment with each step of the descent.
So it is that, with the legislative session scheduled to end this Friday, we are fated to immediately plunge into the first round of the 2006 elections.
Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller and former Homeland Security undersecretary Asa Hutchinson are headlining an exciting primary card in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. But there are also some interesting three-way primaries taking shape on other parts of the ticket.
•Lt. Gov. (Republican)
So far, state Sen. Jim Holt and former Arkansas Baptist Convention president Jim Lagrone have announced their candidacies. State Rep. Doug Matayo is also considering joining the field.
At first glance, this race is the Christian Right’s version of an internal cage match. Holt is the self-employed father of eight from Springdale who polled 43 percent emphasizing “family values” in his 2004 campaign against U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Lagrone is a Baptist minister from Benton. Matayo, a John Brown University graduate, also is from Springdale, where he works in insurance.
However, reached by telephone on Monday, Lagrone said “all you are going to hear me talking about is education and economics.” Asked to differentiate himself from Holt, Lagrone kept saying that he is going to try to “bring people together.”
Holt has become best known in recent weeks for his explosive rhetoric against illegal immigrants and gay rights. Like Holt, Lagrone was “solidly in favor of the marriage amendment,” but he promises a “novel idea” on the immigration issue.
If Lagrone really plans to take a more progressive stance on immigration (as Gov. Mike Huckabee has done in his support of state Rep. Joyce Elliott’s bill to allow the children of immigrants to qualify for college scholarships), it will be interesting to see what that does for his electoral chances.
After all, the bulk of Republican primary voters are in Northwest Arkansas, where anti-immigration sentiments are strongest. Perhaps Lagrone has written off that part of the state anyway, since Holt and Matayo come from there, but Lagrone says he is “not conceding Northwest Arkansas.”
Lagrone also has hired an African-American female college student, Princella Smith, to be his campaign manager.
•Lt. Gov. (Democrat)
No one has announced yet, but it is all but certain that the Democrats will have a three-way race as well, featuring state Sen. Tim Wooldridge of Paragould, former state Rep. Scott Ferguson of West Memphis, and former state Rep. Mike Hathorn of Huntsville.
[Full disclosure: I managed Hathorn’s 2001 3rd District congressional campaign, and he is a friend.]
Hathorn originally was going to run for attorney general, which seemed like a better fit in light of his relative youth. But that primary got crowded (see below), and the Wooldridge-Ferguson match-up offered some entry room.
First, both men are from Northeast Arkansas. Second, both men are quite conservative, which isn’t bad in a general election, but opens up opportunities for more progressive positions that would appeal to Democratic primary voters.
Third, Wooldridge is a hospital fundraiser and Ferguson is a doctor. Hathorn therefore would have an edge in getting financial backing from fellow trial lawyers, who constitute one of the most generous networks in Democratic Party politics.
Ferguson has hired Michael Cook, the former executive director of the state Democratic Party, to manage his campaign.
•Attorney General (Democrat)
A youth movement is characterizing the competition for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, with three likely candidates in their early- to mid-30s: Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Herzfeld, North Little Rock City Attorney Paul Suskie, and state Rep. Dustin McDaniel of Jonesboro.
Each man has unique advantages and constituencies, which explains why Hathorn bailed on this race.
McDaniel is the biggest surprise, because he is going to run for statewide office after serving only four months in the legislature. But his father is a legend in the statewide trial lawyer community, so he can expect generous support from them.
Herzfeld has been tough on crime and has implemented some aggressive reforms in the two years since he took office. He has adopted the fight against methamphetamine abuse as his signature issue, and he is adept at getting media coverage for his efforts.
Suskie is currently serving in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, and one rumor has him announcing his candidacy on the tarmac when he returns to Arkansas. He pioneered a program using condemnation laws to combat illegal activity in abandoned houses, and he created a statewide network by speaking about the initiative with law enforcement groups around Arkansas.
Both Democratic primaries may hinge on which candidates can capture the black vote, since no one has a natural advantage there.