Ellington Surprises; Cotton Delivers (Jeff Hankins Publisher's Note)

by Jeff Hankins  on Monday, Jun. 4, 2012 12:00 am  

Jeff Hankins

Arkansas’ primary elections delivered the expected low voter turnout but managed to generate a little drama and intrigue.

Here are some observations:

Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington of Jonesboro nearly pulled off an outright victory in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District despite very little fundraising and spending. His involvement in the West Memphis 3 case generated name recognition that surely contributed to his success. I would also note that he easily carried West Memphis and Crittenden County.

He now heads to a runoff against state Rep. Clark Hall of Marvell, who was the favorite going into the race with the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, support from mayors throughout the district and more than $275,000 in campaign contributions.

Ellington dominated in the most populous areas of the district, Craighead and Greene counties, and also did well in the more conservative northern half of the district. He now appears to have the best chance of unseating first-term U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and I think Democrats will flock to his camp. But will any money? Leaders in Jonesboro, in particular, will be carefully assessing their situation with the possibility of having two locals squaring off in November.

Hall, who was lending more money to his campaign in the last couple of weeks, will have to decide whether to double down with more personal investment.

Tom Cotton of Dardanelle pulled away for an easy victory in the 4th District Republican primary, showing that $1.1 million and a military background are a formidable combination. Beth Ann Rankin of Magnolia dominated her home turf, but wasn’t competitive anyplace else despite the backing of former Gov. Mike Huckabee — she barely carried Huckabee’s home of Hempstead County.

Cotton’s campaign party was in Hot Springs on election night, and that was a brilliant move. Garland County accounted for more than one-fifth of GOP votes in the 4th District and is crucial grounds for either a primary or general election victory. Cotton’s fundraising ability and the national GOP’s focus on capturing this open seat make him a heavy favorite in November.

Additionally, however premature it sounds, Cotton instantly joins U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack as the leading Republican candidates for either the open governor’s race or a U.S. Senate race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

State Sen. Gene Jeffress of Louann and Q. Byrum Hurst of Hot Springs will square off in the Democratic runoff in the 4th District. Jeffress raised and spent next to nothing, and he was rewarded with 40 percent of the vote, compared with Hurst getting 36 percent. I’m not sure who will turn out to vote in this runoff.

There were about 35,000 votes cast in the 4th District GOP primary, compared with more than 54,000 in the Democratic race. This probably speaks more to the volume of local races involving Democrats than anything.

President Barack Obama won in Arkansas’ Democratic primary, but an unknown Tennessee lawyer named John Wolfe actually won 34 of 75 counties. Wolfe carried Craighead and Greene counties — and maybe all of what was once upon a time a solidly Democratic 1st District. Perhaps there was some crossover voting by Republicans in that corner of the state with very limited local GOP races, but more likely is the fact that Obama simply hasn’t won over Democrats in this state and never will.

An interesting note: Democrats in conservative Benton County chose Obama over Wolfe, 2,400 to 455. I suspect there were GOP primary races that prevented crossover voting.

Among Republicans, Mitt Romney was handed about 68 percent of the vote in the presidential primary, and Arkansas will be a certain victory for him in November. Newt Gingrich was the least popular of the also-rans with just 5 percent.

(Jeff Hankins can be reached via email at JHankins@ABPG.com, followed on Twitter @JeffHankins and connected with at Facebook.com/Jeff.Hankins and LinkedIn.com/in/JeffHankins.)



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