Will Arkansas be a Battleground State in 2008?

Arkansas is often a forgotten state. Its six electoral votes are the fewest of any state in the South and it’s the smallest state west of the Mississippi River. “Arkansas is the land left over when Louisiana and Missouri were carved out of the Louisiana Purchase and what is now Oklahoma was fenced off as Indian Territory,” according the Almanac of American Politics.

But in 2008, Arkansas News columnist John Brummett thinks it could be the epicenter of American politics.

Brummett wrote in a column on Tuesday that he recently spoke with DLC Founder Al From, who predicts Arkansas’ former first lady is the likely Dem nominee and says there’s a good chance that the GOP ticket will include Mike Huckabee.

Would this make Arkansas a Tier I battleground state? And who would win this battle of the Arkansas heavyweights?

Arkansas has been red in the last two presidential elections, but a lot of people don’t realize how blue it is internally. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe has a veto-proof Democratic legislature (a supermajority), and three out its four its members of Congress and both of its senators are Dems.

To be sure, the state has been drifting rightwards in recent elections, caused in part by changing demographics. Wal-Mart, based in the Bentonville in the northwestern pocket of the state, has attracted a new breed of voters.

The Washington Post wrote in 2005 that Bentonville is pulling in “professionals from amenity-rich cities like New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami, who bring not only their six-figure salaries, but an appetite for Jaguars, sushi, pet day-care centers, Gucci shoes and Chanel sunglasses.”

Still, it’s generally a state of rural Democrats. Brummett told me in an email that Al Gore lost Arkansas because his “environmentalism frightened farmers.” He added that Democrats who win “make a connection through a blend of economic populism, cultural conservatism and inoffensiveness to the farm and business communities.”

Bill Clinton made that connection. Can Hillary?

The polling indicates that she would have a head start. A University of Arkansas survey taken October 7-18 found that a generic Dem candidate leads a generic GOPer 49-31%. It also found that 35% named Hillary Clinton in an open-ended question of whom they support. Huckabee took just 8%.

So I asked Brummett who would win a Hillary v. Huckabee election, both in Arkansas and nationwide? He emailed back this prediction:

“Hillary – here and nationwide. In Arkansas, because of Bill, because of damage to Republicans from Bush and because of Huckabee’s lack of a substantial base in the state. Even the state Republicans don’t like him.

“Nationally, because it’s a Democratic year, because of the war, because of certain economic factors and because she can’t be freshly smeared with negative attacks as Kerry was and Dukakis [was] long before — since people have heard plenty of bad stuff already, and are kind of inured to it in her case.”

 At the very least, Brummett’s saying that Arkansas will be competitive.

But there’s also a question of whether the candidates pay attention to Arkansas. Are its six electoral votes really important enough to spend significant time and money? Brummett thinks so, noting that Al Gore lost the 2000 election by only five electoral votes. He added, “Arkansas’ six electoral votes were as decisive as Florida.”

To the maps: The first is John Kerry v. George Bush in 2004, in which Bush won 54-45%. The second map is the 2006 race of governor, in which Democrat Mike Beebe defeated Republican Asa Hutchinson 55-41%.

2004 Arkansas Presidential

2006 Arkansas Governor

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2 responses to “Will Arkansas be a Battleground State in 2008?

  1. As much as I’d like to see a woman president, I don’t trust Hillary as far as I can throw her.

  2. Pingback: Regional Reporters Lower Expectations « The Electoral Map

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