CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Arkansas Democrats headed home from their national convention re-energized for the state election battle that awaits them in November.
None predicted President Barack Obama will come close to carrying Arkansas, but they believe he will do better than four years ago, when he lost to Republican John McCain by 20 points in the state. And although the economy continues to struggle, they left here optimistic that the nation will return Obama to the White House for a second term.
Arkansas Republicans, who held their convention in Tampa a week earlier, believe they can deliver a landslide victory to Republican candidate Mitt Romney. They have also set their sights on winning majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.
While the Democratic National Convention focused on the presidential race, Gov. Mike Beebe said the festivities did help fire up the party base heading into the final two months of the campaign season.
“The Democrats that are here from Arkansas will go back home fired up,” Beebe said as the convention came to a close last week. “It always helps to get your base fired up.”
“It re-energizes me,” said D’Andre Jones, a delegate from Fayetteville. “We have a lot of work to do. This election is more crucial and more serious than we could have ever imagined.”
Diane Curry, a retired state employee from Little Rock, said Democrats will retain control of the state legislature if they focus on the issues.
“I don’t feel (Republicans) can win if people get out to vote to improve health care, education and the economy,” Curry said.
Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Will Bond said there is a clear philosophical divide between the two parties that should benefit Democrats in November.
“The argument is they want to destroy government and we want government to run more effectively,” he said.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said state Democrats can use to their advantage the overconfidence that Republicans have about the November election.
“They are so busy trying to figure out how they are going to take over the world that they are about to lose a whole bunch of elections,” McDaniel said. “We have great candidates running in Arkansas.”
As to the message to deliver to voters, McDaniel stressed the success that Arkansas has had in balancing its budget and improving its education system under Democrats – and the risk in replacing them with unknown Republicans.
“They want to take us backwards. They want to spend the entire next legislative session on unconstitutional legislation and divisive fights over social agendas,” he said.
Republicans believe they have the advantage because Arkansas voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
“The message is the policies of President Obama have failed, there is no plan to change those policies and the Republican Party is the party that has the plan,” said State GOP Chairman Doyle Webb.
Beebe said the battle ahead is to sway the independent voters who swing between Democrats and Republicans.
“For reasons that are sometimes imagined and sometimes made up – because somebody else did a pretty good job of defining the issues – a lot of the people aren’t with us now and weren’t with us in 2010. We’ve got to get them back,” the governor said.
To do that, Beebe said, Democrats don’t have to prostitute their principles or change their stripes.
“We’ll get them back if we just tell the truth,” he said.
That will mean that delegates to the convention have to go back home and go to work convincing the voters in the middle that Democrats will lead the state forward while Republicans will take it backward, Beebe said.