- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 3, 2002

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) Just six weeks ago, Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee held a double-digit lead and was considered a shoo-in for re-election, like every Arkansas governor for the past 20 years.
Now, most of that lead is gone, and some say his wife's political aspirations and questions about his parole policies are dragging him down.
The state's once little-known Democratic treasurer, grandmotherly Jimmie Lou Fisher, is nearly even with him in the polls, and her aggressive campaign ads aren't letting up.
Mrs. Fisher has hammered Mr. Huckabee on his parole decisions, including supporting clemency for a rapist now facing a murder charge in Missouri, a Governor's Mansion trusty who killed a pastor, and a staff member's stepson released after four years of a 40-year prison term.
Adding to the negative image has been Janet Huckabee's run for secretary of state, which has raised eyebrows for the possibility a husband and wife could hold two of three seats on the panel that draws the state's political boundaries and that one spouse would oversee the other's election results.
"It's given people a reason to think unfavorably about him," said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where both Huckabees attended.
"What looked to be a runaway isn't going to be one," Mr. Bass said.
Polls in mid-September showed the governor with a solid 49-37 lead over the 60-year-old Mrs. Fisher, but last week, those numbers had dropped to 46-44 well within the polls' 4.5 percentage-point margins of sampling error.
If both Huckabees win, Janet Huckabee, as the state Capitol landlord, would make office assignments and control parking, both powerful perks. The secretary of state also serves with the governor and attorney general on the state Board of Apportionment and certifies election results.
"I like Janet very much as a person. I think she genuinely believes she can benefit the state, but it also seems like a power grab," said Melba Suskie, a Little Rock grandmother. "Some people feel the first lady should fulfill her duties as first lady. She needs to be supporting her husband, not competing."
Mrs. Huckabee doesn't see her candidacy as a problem for her husband. "We both know that we're working very hard for the people of Arkansas," she says.
The governor won't discuss it, saying only: "I'm disappointed that some in my own party would talk about my wife negatively without first talking to me about their concerns."
Mr. Huckabee, 47, became governor in 1996 when Jim Guy Tucker resigned after a Whitewater conviction. Two years later, he won election over Democrat Bill Bristow, who ran an unenthusiastic campaign.

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