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Labor Day is in the not-too-distant future, and so is the unofficial start of the fall political campaign.

Work is already under way, of course. Candidates from governor to city council member are making the rounds, shoring up support and trying to energize their respective troops.

The more visible elements of the campaign season, including heavy advertising and direct mail, are really only beginning. All of that will intensify come September.

As of now, Arkansas still looks to be an outlier in the upcoming congressional elections.

Amid those constant predictions of a "blue wave" in the midterm, Arkansas is expected to re-elect most, if not all, of its four incumbent Republican House members.

The only Arkansas race that even has the attention of those tracking midterm prospects is in the 2nd Congressional District, where a Democratic state legislator is challenging the Republican U.S. representative.

U.S. Rep. French Hill, a banker, is seeking his third term in the U.S. Congress, while Clarke Tucker, a lawyer and member of the Arkansas House of Representatives, seeks to unseat him. Both men are from Little Rock.

Real Clear Politics and the Cook Political Report both list Arkansas' 2nd District as leaning Republican, which essentially means Democrats have a shot at flipping the seat.

How much of a shot will depend in part on how much hustle Arkansas Democrats can muster to get their voters to the polls in a state that has voted solidly "red" for several election cycles.

To that end, Democrats are out in the state, training their troops for the campaign.

According to news reports, they have so far managed to turn out roughly 600 volunteers in 10 cities where they've gathered for sessions organized by the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

They, at least, believe they can be part of that heralded blue wave.

While the Democrats' efforts are getting some attention, don't think the state's Republicans are sitting on their hands.

Republicans hold both of the state's U.S. Senate seats, all four U.S. House seats and all of the state's constitutional offices. That didn't happen by accident.

Notably, the highest-profile race on the state's November ballot is Gov. Asa Hutchinson's bid for re-election. The Republican governor faces a Democratic challenger, Jared Henderson, and one from the Libertarian Party, Mark West.

The race, to the extent that there is one, is between heavily favored Hutchinson and Henderson, who is managing to attract some notice.

The state-level election that has drawn the most attention recently is Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's bid for a second term. Her challengers are Mike Lee, a Democrat, and Kerry Hicks, a Libertarian.

A lawsuit filed last week by a Democratic Party staff member seeks to force release of Department of Human Services records on Republican Rutledge's previous employment with the agency.

She was a staff attorney there before leaving to work on former Gov. Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign. Her personnel file was later changed to say she was terminated for gross misconduct. The lawsuit seeks more of her personnel file than has previously been released.

Rutledge says the Democrats are "dragging up decade-old fake news."

It is an old story, albeit an incomplete one.

Significantly, part of the funding for the lawsuit over Rutledge's records is coming from the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Rutledge has chaired the Republican Attorneys General Association since 2017.

The lawsuit naturally generated headlines. If it is successful, release of those old records may or may not impact the outcome of the election.

In the meantime, expect much of this upcoming election season to focus on controversial ballot issues slated for the Nov. 6 vote.

An amendment for stricter term limits for legislators has made the ballot and other initiatives, including one for casino gambling, are close to qualifying.

Plus, the Legislature has referred a couple more issues to the ballot, including the controversial Issue 1.

That's the measure that would set constitutional caps on attorneys' fees and on the amount of certain damages that might be awarded to plaintiffs in lawsuits.

Campaigns for and against the proposed constitutional amendment will be well funded, given that this issue directly pits interests of the legal community against those of business and the medical community.

Get ready for the onslaught and pay attention. All of these campaigns, especially those about ballot issues, need close scrutiny.

Commentary on 08/15/2018

Print Headline: Campaign crunch time

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