Monday, March 29, 2010


Today, we resume our analysis of the down-ballot constitutional races for statewide office. As we’ve already looked at the Governor’s race, the remaining offices to examine include: Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, and Commissioner of State Lands.

As a general rule – based on history – Democrats win down-ballot races. The Arkansas Election Line does not see a divergence from this typical trend in this election year.
  • In the race for Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Commissioner of State Lands, we view the seats all trending “Lean Democrat.”
Lt. Governor:
Republicans will have a contested primary for the nomination to challenge unopposed Democratic candidate State Sen. Shane Broadway.

Restaurateur Mark Darr of Springdale will face Donnie Copeland, a North Little Rock minister.

Darr has been willing to personally finance his campaign, which could give him a competitive advantage. Copeland has church connections throughout Arkansas that will allow him to establish some semblance of a campaign organization.

The Republican primary will be largely influenced by strong voter turnout in northwest Arkansas (advantage - Darr) and a religious base (advantage – Copeland). With little political experience in this race on the GOP side, it is hard to predict at this juncture how the primary plays out.
  • The Arkansas Election Line rates the Republican primary for Lt. Governor as “Toss Up.”
Secretary of State:
Three Democrats - Pulaski County Circuit/County Clerk Pat O’Brien, Sebastian County Clerk Doris Tate and Commissioner of State Lands Mark Wilcox - are all vying for the open seat of Secretary of State. Republican State Rep. Mark Martin is the lone GOP candidate.

The Democratic primary has some interesting dynamics that make it difficult to predict an outcome.

Wilcox is a statewide office-holder and has an established campaign organization in all 75 counties. As land commissioner, he has had the opportunity for nearly 8 years to network with influential county elected officials – a strong base that propelled him into office originally. He has raised adequate money to fund his campaign operations, but trails O’Brien in this effort.

Curiously, Wilcox left his title of Commissioner of State Lands off his candidate filing. Typically, it helps to have a title in front of an office-seeker’s name for statewide office.

O’Brien’s fundraising is his strength today, but he has also been effective in networking throughout the state. He has been active in Democratic Party politics for two decades and he too has courthouse support in some areas. With more than $200,000 raised, O’Brien is expected to place a significant media buy to boost his name ID.

While Tate trails both men in this primary race in terms of fundraising, she could be the spoiler. Tate has some county courthouse connections through her years of service as Sebastian County Clerk. Her regional appeal – from western Arkansas – could also produce enough results to force a run-off in this race.

Tate also chose to not put her title on the ballot, perhaps to avoid any anti-incumbent sentiment that is resonating in the electorate.

A run-off election in a down-ballot primary race like this tends to be more influenced by campaign organization versus money. Four years ago, state Treasurer Martha Shoffner beat a well-funded challenger who took to the airwaves. She was elected to office (despite being outspent) due to her political connections throughout the state.
  • With a run-off expected, the Arkansas Election Line ranks this Democratic primary race “Toss Up.”
Commissioner of State Lands:
Republican John Thurston is the only GOP candidate for the office. He will face one of three Democrats seeking the nomination.

Rep. Monty Davenport, who has a background in real estate, has been raising money and attempting to build a campaign organization for the better part of a year. His legislative contacts give him reach into most counties throughout the state. Davenport has also been working the crucial county courthouse vote, which helps tremendously with a down-ballot race like this one.

Mike Berg, a commercial real estate broker, is immensely qualified for the office. While he has been quietly, but visibly, active in Democratic Party politics for decades, Berg’s political base is much more limited than Davenport’s, but he is willing to put some personal money in the race.

L.J. Bryant climbed into the land commissioner race on the last day of filing. He has the toughest row to hoe in making his candidacy competitive. Bryant starts from scratch with fundraising and he lacks the depth of statewide political connections that Davenport has.

Davenport could win this election without a run-off. If a run-off occurs, however, he should still have the advantage due to his courthouse and legislative contacts.

  • The Arkansas Election Line views this primary seat as “Leans Davenport.”
Jason Tolbert at The Tolbert Report – Constitutional Offices
Blake Rutherford at Blake’s Think Tank – Constitutional Offices