Darkness descended over the state Tuesday afternoon. A gloomy rain fell.
That is a weather report. But it also functioned as a political forecast.
At 9 p.m., the lights went out—literally—on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross as he was trying to deliver a poignant concession speech.
It was, of course, the too-easy metaphor.
This morning Arkansas Democrats have gone dark. They have one thing—Pulaski County, where all their candidates clobbered Republicans, from the top of the ticket to the bottom—but nothing else, not one seat in Congress, where they held five of six four years ago, and not one statewide constitutional office, where they held seven of seven four years ago.
Man alive: If you take Democrats’ big votes in Pulaski County out of the equation, the Republican victory was more than a rout. It was Secretariat at the Belmont.
Pulaski County is now surrounded by an alien land. Or maybe it’s the other way around.
And Arkansas Democrats have no foundation upon which to rebuild, no farm team to call up—nothing. The last descendants of the Pryor-Clinton era—literally, meaning David Pryor’s son and Bill Clinton’s long-ago campaign driver Mike Ross—got drubbed for U.S. Senate and governor.
At this writing they trail by about … well, 15 points. Not the four or five I predicted, or the 10 the cockiest Republicans predicted, but 15.
When Mark on Tuesday night called up his dad and mom—they of so many political glories past—it was positively … sad.
And let’s state the obvious: This is not Bill Clinton’s Arkansas anymore. He wasted his breath.
We elected to the U.S. Senate a right-wing zealot named Tom Cotton, who distinguished himself in a lone congressional term for voting against practically everything the federal government proposed for Arkansas or anybody else.
He voted against the farm bill. He voted against the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. And Arkansas rewarded him for making it hurt so good.
Cotton carried his extremist conservative stridence through to his victory speech, a defiant Koch brothers’ manifesto about the evil of government.
Meantime we elected a new governor in Asa Hutchinson who seems moderate because his granddaughter called him “Paw Paw” in a television commercial and because Cotton exists for comparison.
And we elected a new attorney general named Leslie Rutledge who was deemed unworthy of rehiring to a staff lawyer’s position in a state agency and who says she’ll use her status as the state’s chief legal officer to push back against the overreach of the federal government.
You know: Trying to protect the environment in order to combat climate change. Overreach like that.
I think the following is what Rutledge means: If we want to burn coal down here, then we will burn coal down here, by golly, no matter what the federal government says. It’s our business and our air, like our schools were our schools in 1957.
I think Rutledge also refers to pushing back against the overreach of Obamacare. But on a panel on which I sat at noon Tuesday at the downtown Little Rock Rotary Club, shortly before darkness descended, two Republican operatives said Republicans would likely keep Obamacare in Arkansas, because they’d need the money.
Well, they didn’t put it that way. They said Republicans would likely keep the private-option form of Medicaid expansion because it’s different from Obamacare. But it would not exist if Tom Cotton got his way in the Senate and repealed Obamacare altogether, as he prefers because, as he said Tuesday night in victory, a government that can give you everything can take everything away. So, you see, government should do little to nothing for anybody.
For all the extremeness of its collective electoral action Tuesday, Arkansas wasn’t so much different from the rest of the country.
At this writing it appears the Democrats lost at least five of their 55 seats—including the two independents who caucus with them—in the U.S. Senate and maybe as many as eight.
Barack Obama’s presidency is essentially over, unless some extraordinary circumstance forces him to act as one between now and January 2017.
P.S.—Was there any good news for Arkansas Democrats? Well, yes. Clarke Tucker defeated Stacy Hurst for a state representative’s seat in Little Rock. The editorialists thought Tucker a promising figure, but a bit young.
Actually, he was at Harvard with Cotton. They’re very nearly the same age.
John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.