For months, Beth Anne Rankin wrestled with whether or not to run, again, for Congress, even though she had lost twice before. In the end, she said no.
“It’s just hard to let go,” she said in an interview Tuesday between informing supporters of her decision. She later explained, “I just didn’t think it was the right time for me to run again.”
I should disclose that Beth Anne – I mean, Rankin – and I have known each other since we attended Ouachita Baptist University in the early 1990s, and we later both worked in Gov. Mike Huckabee’s office.
Rankin won the Republican nomination in south Arkansas’ 4th District in 2010. She lost to then-Rep. Mike Ross in the general election but did manage to get under his skin. She started the 2012 race with 40 percent support while her nearest competitor, Tom Cotton, had 3 percent. But Cotton attracted the support of the highly influential Club for Growth, collected a ton of out-of-state money, and won the race going away.
Cotton is running for the Senate this year, so the seat’s open, but the field to replace him will be crowded. For Republicans, state Rep. Bruce Westerman was the majority leader in the Arkansas House this year, and he lives in the Hot Springs area, which has a lot of voters and is in the middle of the district. Tommy Moll, a young, unknown businessman, put himself on the map by outraising Westerman in the campaign’s early days. For the Democrats, James Lee Witt, who led the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton administration, announced he was running the same day Rankin said she wasn’t. Janis Percefull, a community college instructor, also is running as a Democrat, and there could be candidates from the Libertarian and Green parties.
Rankin told me the loss to Cotton didn’t affect her decision to sit out this race.
Years ago, she lost the Miss Arkansas pageant three times, though she did win the dreaded Miss Congeniality Award each year. During her fourth attempt in 1994, she won the title and had the chance to live her dream. She hadn’t really thought about how that experience related to this until I asked. “I do look back on my life, and very rarely have things happened on the first or second effort,” she said.
Rankin has been a natural campaigner because she likes retail politics, believes in her cause, and is good at communicating it. But there were moments that were difficult, and not just when she lost. Running for Congress requires a candidate to sell herself, and there are times when people make it clear they don’t want to buy the product. An editorial in the statewide daily was so scathing that she reread her college transcript (she graduated 12th in her class) to remind herself that she wasn’t the person described.
Politics has changed a lot since Rankin’s first race in 2010. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, almost unlimited money is being poured into campaigns. Cotton and his opponent, Sen. Mark Pryor, have been running negative ads for a while now, despite the election not being until next November. In contrast, Rankin in 2010 announced she was a candidate on March 4 and won the primary in May.
While she hasn’t ruled out a future run for Congress, she knows it won’t happen this year. For the woman who didn’t give up until she became Miss Arkansas, this was not easy to accept.
She did not formally announce her non-candidacy. Instead, she informed her supporters, called Westerman and Moll, and reminded herself that the timing wasn’t right. And then, she said, “I’ll just wake up and live with my decision.”
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.