Historic Election Night for Arkansas Republicans (Jeff Hankins Analysis)

by Jeff Hankins  on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 9:01 am  

A dramatic win in the First District, where Rick Crawford (right) becomes the first Republican to hold the seat since Reconstruction. He defeated Democrat Chad Causey (left).

In a nutshell, we just experienced the most historic night in Arkansas political history with the depth of change and level of Republican success statewide -- from congressional races to constitutional officers to the General Assembly.

Bill Clinton's election as president obviously remains the single biggest political event, but it had a very different impact and didn't transform the political landscape of the state overnight.

(Latest Results: State officer races here; Congressional amendments and others here.)

In January, the GOP will hold four of the state's six seats in the U.S. Congress. Three statewide constitutional offices - including lieutenant governor and secretary of state - will be held by Republicans. Democrats, who lost all seven state Senate races, will hold a slim 20-15 majority in that chamber and perhaps a 57-43 majority in the House after giving up a net 15 seats.

The Republicans' best-case scenario and the Democrats' worst nightmare came true. Three counties told the story:

  • Pulaski County had to deliver big-time for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Second Congressional District Democratic nominee Joyce Elliott to have even a remote chance of winning. Lincoln won by only 7,000 votes, and Elliott barely won the county. I'm guessing Republican winner Tim Griffin picked up 95 percent of the independent vote over Elliott in the county.
  • When Democrat Chad Causey was trailing early in his home Craighead County, that spelled doom for him against Republican winner Rick Crawford. Lincoln also lost big in the Jonesboro area, which has been a big base of Democratic support for years.
  • The volume of votes in Benton County was the difference in the state constitutional offices. Republican lieutenant governor candidate Mark Darr beat Democrat Shane Broadway by a 21,000-vote margin; Republican secretary of state candidate Mark Martin beat Democrat Pat O'Brien by a 19,000-vote margin (compared with O'Brien winning Pulaski by a 30,000-vote swing).

Here are some other quick observations from the election results:

  • U.S. Rep. John Boozman's campaign strategy in the Senate race worked to perfection, and it was quite simple actually: duck and cover so you don't make a big mistake, and join Lincoln to the hip of Obama. There was no way for Lincoln to overcome that, even outspending him $11 million to $2 million (excluding outsiders' money).
  • Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who whipped Republican Jim Keet, will have to spend the coming weeks assessing the political carnage of his party, determining how to tackle a two-party legislature and perhaps developing a strategy for a Democratic comeback. But he can also savor one of the most decisive victories ever by an Arkansas politician by winning in every county, including highly conservative Benton County.
  • Surely there's no congressional district in the country that can match the ideological shift that will be experienced in the Second District from liberal U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder to the conservative Griffin.
  • The First District once was just as sure-fire Democratic as the Third District is Republican. The loss of that seat to a basically unknown candidate epitomizes the national disaster suffered by the national Democratic Party as a result of its policies and those of President Obama.
  • Lincoln's weak performance in the agriculture-heavy First District showed that voters placed virtually no value on her chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee. This was a significant misjudgment by her campaign, along with the emphasis she placed on all the federal dollars she secured for Arkansas. The healthcare reform vote and anti-Obama mood pushed Boozman into landslide territory.
  • Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross enjoyed a strong win in the Fourth District. If the Republicans retain control of the House in 2012, it will all but guarantee he will run for governor in 2014 in what would be a shootout against Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for the Democratic nomination.
  • What can you say about Rogers Mayor Steve Womack winning the race to succeed Boozman in the Third congressional District? First, Rogers will continue to be home to a congressman, adds a U.S. senator to the mix and also gets the lieutenant governor in Mark Darr. How's that for a city with power? Oh, and Womack supported the re-election of Beebe as governor.
  • If the GOP indeed wins somewhere between 40-43 seats in the Arkansas House of Representatives, that would easily eclipse the record of 30.
We'll be talking about this election for many years to come.

(Arkansas Business Publisher Jeff Hankins can be reached via e-mail 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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