Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is making a stop in Arkansas Thursday evening to headline a ticketed-event in Little Rock honoring the Pryor family. The visit comes on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s entrance into the 2016 presidential race.
Ouachita Baptist University political scientist Hal Bass said regardless of Clinton’s electoral prospects in Arkansas the national Democratic Party has a degree of renewed interest in the conservative-led state.
“I think with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton candidacy and nomination there’s an expectation that there will be some money to be raised in here in Arkansas and money raised here can be spent all over the country.”
That expectation is a departure from how some Democrats have viewed Arkansas in past election cycles, said Bass.
“I think it’s a reflection of the fact that raising money in Arkansas for Democratic Party presidential contests in recent years has been a pretty tough row to hoe. With nominees like John Kerry and Barack Obama who were clearly out of sync with the Arkansas political culture.”
Greg Shufeldt, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the event in Little Rock is not being held solely for the benefit of national electoral contests.
“It doesn’t look like Senator Clinton is going to face any real strong opposition for the Democratic nomination so the party won’t really have the opportunity to use the primaries and caucuses to build an organization for November so by being proactive an having events like they’re having tonight in Arkansas – a state that probably won’t be contested – they’re able to really prop up the local party for any local races that might be relevant,” said Shufedlt.
The Democratic Party of Arkansas relayed that proceeds from $75 tickets for the event with the DNC Chair will be directed to the state party’s apparatus.
DPA Chair Vincent Insalaco’s statement on Wasserman-Schultz’s visit points to both local and national aims.
"We are glad to join with the Young Democrats of Arkansas in honoring the lifetime service of David and Barbara Pryor and in welcoming Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in her first visit to Arkansas as Chair of the Democratic National Convention. As we gear up for 2016, we look forward to electing candidates who continue to put things like Pre-K education, healthcare, and fairness for hard-working families at the forefront of the issues which are discussed on the national stage, as well as here in Arkansas."
Fundraising by Democrats in Arkansas this week comes after news that Arkansan Warren Stephens topped the list of donors to various national Republican Party entities. The president of the financial firm Stephens Inc. has used new relaxations of campaign contribution limits to donate just over $500,000 in the first three months of 2015.
Bass said it’s another indicator that the relevance of Arkansas in 2016 isn’t only about adding votes to the Electoral College.
“The current rules and norms for campaign finance encourage going to donors like this and getting big, big contributions from them. What’s interesting about Stephen’s contributions is that they went through the Party. So much of the current big donations are being directed toward the PACs,” said Bass.
Stephens is also on the board of directors for one of the nation’s largest conservative PACs the Club for Growth.
Hillary Clinton is not the only ex-Arkansas resident familiar with the Governor’s Mansion invoked in talks of 2016.
“There’s no question that we’re going to be on the national media’s radar screen in the 2016 campaign on both party’s sides,” said Bass.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee is expected to announce his run in early May. Huckabee is scheduled to give an address in his hometown of Hope. Another former Arkansas governor, former President Bill Clinton, also calls Hope home. Bass said he expects Huckabee to play-up the Arkansas connection as evidence that he can take on Clinton if he wins the Republican nomination.
As for Arkansas, Professor Shufeldt said it’s a state that may already be determined regardless of nominees.
“Hillary Clinton is likely to outperform or over-perform compared to other Democrats [in Arkansas]. She beat Barack Obama handily in the 2008 primary in Arkansas. But as we’ve seen in the last three or four elections Republicans have really had massive success at both the statewide and lower levels races. To expect any candidate to really put Arkansas back in play is unlikely.”