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A lesser candidate takes offense 



One hesitates to bother writing about Asa Hutchinson. He is doing so poorly in most of the polls that, like Rod Bryan and Jim Lendall, he probably ought to be excluded from the gubernatorial debates on account of a lack of viability.

That would leave Mike Beebe to rip into himself on abortion, gay foster parents and intelligent design.

Last week we had the thorough hilarity of Republicans crowing about the new Zogby poll. It had Asa down by only nine points, you see.

Then Hutchinson showed himself so desperate for money that he brought into the state a man whose approval ratings are about as low as, well, Asa’s average percentage against Beebe.

But since hypocrisy is always a rich subject, we might as well devote a few paragraphs to Asa.

Last weekend Beebe finally showed a competitive pulse. He got up at the state Democratic convention and said that, unlike Asa, he would defend the school standards. Beebe also said that, unlike Asa, he was running for governor because that was the only job he wanted, not because he didn’t get the job he really wanted.

Perhaps you are aware that Asa says we ought to relax the school standards in cases where he might be able to pick up a few votes. Perhaps you are aware that Asa wanted a Cabinet job, but that George W. Bush unimaginably considered him an even worse choice than Michael Chertoff.

Hutchinson replied that he was surprised that Beebe would make such “personal attacks” on him.

Personal attacks? To speak the simple truth that Asa has proposed waiving minimum school standards? To speak the simple truth that Asa offered himself for Arkansas governor after getting passed over for federal Homeland Security director?

There’s nothing remotely personal about either of those statements. One has to do with education policy. The other has to do with Asa’s career path.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking the governorship as a fallback. Bill Clinton chose the office time and again because president wasn’t available. Dale Bumpers chose it twice because nobody would crown him king.

Here’s a personal attack: Saying repeatedly that Beebe has no apparent sustaining values or credibility.

Asa’s been making that one for months, albeit usually in vicarious fashion, most often through his silly campaign blog run by an old Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial writer and existing to smear Beebe and smarmily misrepresent practically everything that’s written about the governor’s race.

Hutchinson sees a need to go after the front-running Beebe personally. But he also sees a mitigating need not to be seen as mean himself. So, he deploys hatchet men while he feigns offense that Beebe would dare to speak negatively about him.

The blog is the least of it — nothing, really. More significantly, the Republicans have activated a supposedly “independent” outfit that actually paid for the recent TV spots about the supposedly “old” and “new” Beebe.

The ad tried to use Beebe’s 20-year legislative record of fiscal responsibility against him. It suggested a supposed disconnect between balancing budgets before and proposing to grant relief on the grocery tax now. But there isn’t any disconnect, just as there isn’t any between Asa’s opposing all abortions before and now favoring them in cases of rape and incest. Life is a glorious and ever-fluid adventure during which smart and well-meaning people make modifications.
That “independent” outfit meant that Asa could counter Beebe’s TV ads, and do so via a personal attack, without spending his own campaign money or getting himself dirty.

The best thing about Beebe’s comments wasn’t the substance, which was tame. It was that he spoke the words himself. He didn’t rely on others while pretending his dirty hands were pristine.

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