Arkansas Election A Test of GOP Momentum in State

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012 8:15 am  

Republicans are crediting President Barack Obama's poor popularity rating, the party's infrastructure around the state and changing demographics for putting the GOP on the verge of a legislative takeover. (Photo by Stephanie Dunn)

LITTLE ROCK — With control of the Legislature and a GOP sweep of the state's four congressional seats potentially within reach, Republicans in Arkansas are heading into Tuesday's election ready to test whether the party's momentum in recent years will break what had been a reliable Democratic stronghold in the South.

It's been a long-elusive goal for Republicans, who have regularly pointed to signs of Arkansas turning into a two-party state only to see their hopes dashed in the next election. Though the party's made inroads over the years and Republicans have held the governor's mansion three times since Reconstruction, Arkansas is the only state from the old Confederacy where Democrats control both the state Legislature and the governor's office.

Republicans insist that's going to change Tuesday, in an election where both parties have been focused on dozens of state House and Senate districts they believe are the key to a legislative majority.

"It is not a blip," state Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said. "Arkansas is realigning with the Republican Party because Arkansans are conservatives."

Democrats currently hold a 53-46 majority in the House, with one vacant seat, and a 20-15 majority in the Senate, while Republicans hold three of the state' four congressional seats. While Republicans have been boasting about their strength heading into the election, Democrats say they believe the party will maintain its legislative majority.

Republicans are crediting President Barack Obama's poor popularity rating, the party's infrastructure around the state and changing demographics for putting the GOP on the verge of a legislative takeover. Democrats have been relying on Gov. Mike Beebe's popularity and argue that Republicans — aided by outside groups spending big on races around the state — are trying to nationalize the fight for the statehouse.

Republicans and Democrats agree that Obama's unpopularity has helped drive the GOP's growth in the state over the past few years. Though Arkansas is a flyover state in the presidential election, the Democratic president's image is seen frequently on slick mailers sent out for legislative races.

At a pre-election rally for Republicans last week, former Gov. Mike Huckabee joked that the party should give the president an award for helping the GOP grow in Arkansas. Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson said the president has helped Republicans make the link between national and state policies affecting the state.

It's a challenge that Hutchinson, who lost the governor's race to Beebe six years ago, knows all too well.

"I think the obstacle has been the long-held traditions of Arkansas that have separated national politics from state politics. In past years, (Arkansans) could vote Republican for the U.S. Senate and Republican for governor but it was very easy to go in and cast your ballot for a Democratic legislator," said Hutchinson, who is widely viewed as a potential candidate for governor in 2014. "That's no longer how the voters feel."

Recent polling may back up that belief. The University of Arkansas' annual Arkansas Poll last month found that for the third year in a row, voters who identified themselves as independent said they identified more with the Republican Party.

Democrats, however, have said they're not going down without a fight. Beebe set a series of rallies in northeast Arkansas this weekend to urge voters to support Democrats in Tuesday's election, and the party has pointed to Beebe's successes with a majority Democrat Legislature as the argument for keeping control.

 

 

Please read our comments policy before commenting.