Wednesday, January 30, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Democrats’ best hope

Dustin McDaniel’s political career crashed to the bedroom floor last week, leaving the Democratic Party to contemplate an uncertain future without an anointed candidate for the 2014 election. Parties nowadays like to go into election years with the nominations for major offices pretty settled, thus husbanding money for the big race in the fall.

It was supposed to be the popular attorney general vs. Republican Asa Hutchinson, a three-time loser in statewide races who thinks his time has finally come. But McDaniel announced last week that he was withdrawing from the race to concentrate on rebuilding his life after a highly publicized adulterous affair with a Hot Springs lawyer. McDaniel revealed the affair—a brief one, he said—in December when people in the media started inquiring about it. The Hot Springs lawyer’s ex-husband accused her of an affair with McDaniel in legal custody pleadings and got the media interested. His whole family having now experienced the pitiless glare of the political strobe lights, the husband regrets the whole thing.

McDaniel soldiered on for a few weeks, emphatically assuring everyone that, affair or not, he was in the governor’s race to stay. Voters have sometimes overlooked politicians’ philandering, and sometimes they have not. Arkansas voters forgave U.S. Rep. Wilbur D. Mills’ cavorting with the nightclub stripper Annabella Battistella—for one election—but they didn’t forgive their old hero, Gov. Orval E. Faubus, for dumping his wife for a tart with a beehive hairdo, although he gave them three chances, in 1970, 1974 and 1986. In McDaniel’s case, it became clear that his dalliance was not going away in voters’ minds, perhaps because it was complicated by a killing in the Hot Springs woman’s driveway.

The attorney general won’t be re-entering the race next year after time has healed the wounds—voters would not overlook such hypocrisy—but we would not be surprised to find him running for Congress in the district centered in his hometown of Jonesboro.

McDaniel’s withdrawal is not necessarily bad for the Democratic Party, which now has a chance to find a perfectly new leader, as it did in 1970 when the voters plucked young Dale Bumpers, totally unknown, from a field of seven better-known politicians.

Who could it be? Handsome Bill Halter, the former lieutenant governor who took on Sen. Blanche Lincoln in her own primary two years ago, is running. So is John Burkhalter, a rich businessman who is close to Gov. Beebe. So might Mike Ross, who left Congress this month for a career as an energy lobbyist and executive. There is talk that young Chris Thomason of Hope, a former legislator and prosecuting attorney who now runs a community college, will run. Shane Broadway, a former state legislator who lost a race for lieutenant governor in the Republican landslide of 2010 and who now directs the state Department of Higher Education, is entertaining the idea.

The Democrats’ best hope, we believe, would be Will Bond, who accepted Gov. Beebe’s plea two years ago to command the moribund state party in the face of a Republican financial onslaught and an intensely hated (in Arkansas) national standard bearer, Barack Obama. Alas, it will take a draft to get the reluctant Bond into a race that he does not care to make.

What a refreshing contrast Bond, unscarred by scandal or defeat, would make to Hutchinson, who lost big three times, in 1986, 1992 and 2006, but who would be bankrolled this time by the gun makers, the Koch brothers and the billionaires club. Voters deserve such a choice, but they aren’t likely to get it.