Will he or won’t he? According to state Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, he’s leaning toward the U.S. Senate race, sort of, almost, but not quite, well, at least not on the record, but off the record, sure, he’s there, at least 99.9 percent there, maybe.
That’s sort of the way it goes with Baker.
Our most recent exchange took place over the phone on a Thursday night — the day before his fellow brotherhood compatriot, Senate President Pro Tem Bob Johnson, let the cat out of the bag that he was considering challenging Lincoln for the Democratic nomination.
Baker has said all along that one of the advantages of him running would be that he could rally conservative Democrats to his cause. He’d mentioned by name Bob Johnson as being one such Democrat who would support him should he run.
But he didn’t know about Johnson’s interest in the race until friends told him after they read about it. In fact, Baker and Johnson had talked last Thursday — the same day Baker and I visited — about GOP state Sen. Sharon Trusty’s planned retirement, but, curiously enough, Johnson didn’t mention his interest in challenging Lincoln.
Johnson insists he’s no stalking horse for Baker. His interest in challenging Lincoln is real.
When we talked, Baker sounded like a candidate, someone looking to run rather than backing away from a race. He talked about the GOP’s need for a candidate who could raise $1 million by year’s end and that hopefully a nominee, like himself, would be able to put half that amount in the bank in short order.
Three weeks ago, he was abandoning the idea of running and, instead, was generally supportive of another candidate who was poised to enter the race — Capt. Tom Cotton, the Harvard man from Dardanelle, who served his country in two wars both as a Ranger and Army officer. At that time, the two men hadn’t visited face-to-face, but had talked on the phone.
But according to Baker, most recently, the only thing that had changed between our two conversations was that Cotton wouldn’t be able to exit the military until the end of September, which he said was different from what he’d previously understood. An entire month would pass before Cotton could announce and begin raising money, which was unsettling to Baker. That said, Cotton insists that his planned departure date has always been scheduled for the end of September.
Even though Baker wouldn’t say whether he was running definitively, other Republicans said Baker had told them he would launch an exploratory committee on Sept. 1, so he could begin raising money before the FEC filing period ended 30 days later.
The thought is that if Baker could raise a half-million dollars in his first month, then perhaps Cotton would think twice about launching a campaign after his separation from the military is complete.
But some of Cotton’s biggest backers have said Baker should not count on dissuading captain from entering the race in early October. In fact, calls are being made on Cotton’s behalf in which those who are on the other end of the line are being asked about their willingness to financially support Cotton when he gets in the race.
Baker, no doubt, sees a great opportunity to unseat Sen. Lincoln next year, as does Cotton, Curtis Coleman and others. Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling shop, released new numbers Thursday that showed Lincoln in real trouble. Her approval rating is now just 36 percent, with a 44 percent disapproval rating. And, even though Baker, Coleman, and Cotton are relative unknowns, when polled head-to-head with Lincoln, Baker was two percentage points ahead, Coleman was one point ahead and Cotton was just down one point.
So, there you have it, Baker’s in — I think.
Sanders writes twice weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and is the host of Arkansas Education Television Network’s “Unconventional Wisdom.” His e-mail address is DavidJSanders@aol.com.