Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas GOP presidential primary | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas GOP presidential primary

Posted By on Sun, Feb 28, 2016 at 5:32 PM

Interesting perspective from Roby Brock of Talk Business on the role of Gov. Asa Hutchinson in Tuesday's Republican primaries, and what the governor has at stake. As I noted earlier today, the governor is heavily involved in eight legislative races. And he's backing Marco Rubio, the establishment choice. In both cases, Hutchinson is seeking to flex his political muscle but may run afoul of some Tea Party voters. 

Brock has an interesting theory — Hutchinson isn't just backing Rubio because he's the presumptive establishment candidate. More votes for Rubio also means more votes for establishment (read: pro-private option) candidates down ballot, Brock argues: 

The incumbent governor – who is not on the ballot – kind of is on the ballot. Hutchinson is playing heavily in GOP legislative races and while his support for Marco Rubio is part of the national narrative of backing the presumptive establishment candidate, Hutchinson has more on the line than just a Presidential endorsement.

Hutchinson needs Rubio supporters to go to the polls and vote down-ballot. With the prospect of Trump and Cruz anti-establishment voters turning out in record numbers, incumbents and pro-Hutchinson candidates running for the State Senate and State House need counter-balance. Hutchinson’s efforts and a Rubio turnout operation could effect those legislative races. Fifty or 100 votes may make the difference. Will a Trump voter, per se, just turn out to vote for Trump or will that voter also look at incumbents and vote for the opposing side? You can bet challengers are hoping for the latter, while Hutchinson would be just fine with them pulling the lever once and exiting. We’ll be able to tell from the final vote tally as we look at under-balloting in key legislative races.

And just to note, this is a longer-term play for Hutchinson, too. As the state moves into health care reform and the reconfiguration of the private option into Arkansas Works, the makeup of the state legislature won’t be any different than the group that passed Hutchinson’s “end it and remake it” plan in 2015. But in 2017, a new state legislature might see a larger than 25% voting bloc that could stonewall renewal efforts if he’s successful in the upcoming special session on health care.

Other than deciding the fate of health care in Arkansas, Tuesday’s election will also decide the future of the Arkansas Supreme Court, opportunities for a highway program, the size of potential tax cuts, and the legacy of a new first-term governor. As the title of this essay implies, Tuesday’s election means much more than you think.

There's a few question marks here, though. One thing to bear in mind is that some of Rubio's voters might be private option foes. Worth noting, for example, that the state chair of his campaign is Sen. Bart Hester, a Tea Partier who is dead set against the private option. Rubio may be the establishment pick, but he's basically a Tea Party candidate ideologically. 

Meanwhile, clearly Cruz voters are the type of movement conservatives who will likely also be motivated to vote against the continuation of Medicaid expansion. But Trump voters? Who knows! Trump is generally supportive of universal coverage and to the extent that he's been coherent on health care policy, he seems to be motivated to keep coverage in place, not snatch it away. He doesn't want people to die in the streets! (Cruz and Rubio said this makes him not a true conservative.) Frankly, the way that Trump talks about health care policy may not make a whole lot of sense, but in broad outlines, and tonally, it's not so different than the way Hutchinson talks about the need to cover the poor in Arkansas. 

But that's not really my point about Trump voters and Brock's down-ballot theory. My point is that a huge chunk of Trump voters simply don't care that much about policy. They like Trump's attitude and strongman persona. It may be true that they're anti-incumbent, but even with the titles on ballots, I think it's a stretch to assume the majority of Trump voters will even be able to recognize who the incumbents are, or care. Maybe I'm underestimating the Trumpistas but I predict that a good chunk of folks who turn out for Trump either won't bother voting in the legislative races or will vote in idiosyncratic or even random ways that have nothing to do with health care or Asa's establishment. 

As Brock points out, while Tuesday's primaries won't impact the makeup of the legislature that convenes in April to vote on the governor's plan to continue the private option with a few tweaks, they will determine what the legislature looks like in 2017 and 2018. Remember, the drama doesn't end this year: Hutchinson still needs annual supermajorities for the PO. If the governor has a bad night on Tuesday, it's very bad news for the private option, and for the more than 250,000 Arkansans dependent on the policy for their health insurance. 

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