Back in June, after the primary and run-off elections (or partisan primary and general primary, if you want be specific about such things), the Election Line rated all of the constitutional offices that featured both a Republican and a Democrat. At that time, the ratings were as follows:
- AR-Gov: Safe Mike Beebe (D)
- AR-Lt. Gov: Leans Shane Broadway (D)
- AR-Sec. State: Leans Pat O’Brien (D)
- AR-Land Comm: Leans L.J. Bryant (D)
Those ratings were based to varying degrees on name recognition, lack of any controversial votes/stances, and margin of victory in the primary or runoff. However, as more recent polling has shown an anti-Democrat bent (or, I suppose, a pro-Republican bent, depending on one’s perspective) among the electorate, AEL has re-evaluated three of the above races.
First, however, the one that did not change; AEL leaves AR-Gov as “Safe Beebe.”
This lack of movement is based on several factors. First, Beebe enjoys an amazing $2.5 million to $9,000 cash advantage over challenger Jim Keet, and that is after having bought all the media that Beebe anticipates needing between now and November 2. Second, while it looked for a brief moment in mid-summer that Keet might make a race of this contest, he has since mishandled questions regarding his taxes and his airplane. Third, Beebe seems to have been successful at pushing his message of jobs, Arkansas doing better than many states, and other improvements that have come under his watch. Fourth, despite Keet’s best efforts, Beebe has remained outside the fray of the state-employee-automobile controversy.
In short, despite the appearance of some wholly unexpected controversy of a magnitude sufficient that Beebe’s war chest cannot limit the damage, this race is pretty much in the bag.
Now, for the changes. AEL moves the races for Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and Land Commissioner from “Leans Democrat” to “Toss-Up.”
This change is based on the unknown answer to the question of whether name recognition or party identification matters more when voters cast their ballots. Recent polling shows huge swings in support for candidates depending on whether their party affiliations are included in the questions. Conventional wisdom says that people vote for a candidate, not for a party, meaning that the Democrats’ cash advantage can be used to increase their name recognition and thereby swing the races in their favor.
On the other hand, it is hard to rely on conventional wisdom in such a weird political climate. When we see someone like John Thurston — who has said that he is qualified to be Land Commissioner because he is a human and that literally any person could do the Land Commissioner’s job and who has not proffered much of anything resembling a platform — swing from less than 10% support when he is not identified as a Republican to over 50% when is, it’s not hyperbole to say that we are in uncharted waters. In such a weird world, we may see people voting for Thurston, as well as Mark Darr and Mark Martin, simply because of the “R” beside their names.