Robert Coon, Blake Rutherford Weigh In On Tuesday's Arkansas Primary

by Robert Coon, Blake Rutherford and Lance Turner  on Wednesday, May. 21, 2014 3:14 pm  

(Photo by Beth Hall)

Editor's Note: Arkansas Business political columnists Robert Coon and Blake Rutherford joined Online Editor Lance Turner for primary election results analysis. Got a question or comment for the discussion? Email us here, leave a comment below or hit us up on Twitter: @robertwcoon, @blakerutherford, @LT and @ArkBusiness.

Lance Turner: Good morning Robert and Blake, and welcome to our 2014 Arkansas primary post-mortem. I trust both of you didn’t have to stay up too terribly late assessing the returns because, really, the results were pretty much as insiders expected, low turnout included.

Let’s start big picture. What’s the headline takeaway — if any — from last night’s results?

Blake Rutherford: Lance and Robert, Happy post-Election Day. 

I think the takeaway is: no surprises. Despite low turnout, which, as we know from runoffs, can skew outcomes, the statewide and congressional candidates who won were generally expected to, perhaps with the exception of the Republican primary for state treasurer. In that race, state Rep. Duncan Baird, formerly the head of Joint Budget, was a far stronger general election candidate for the Republicans, but was defeated by Dennis Milligan. Be that as it may, U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, French Hill, and state Rep. Bruce Westerman won their Republican primaries for lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress respectively, and set up some compelling match-ups in the fall to go alongside Pryor-Cotton and Ross-Hutchinson. Both sides have to be very pleased with their slate of candidates. 

For all of the talk about the private option, it proved to be a bit of mixed bag for Republicans. State Sen. Missy Irvin, who was first for it and then against it, won. State Sen. Bill Sample, also a supporter, won. And state Rep. John Burris, an ardent supporter of the private option, is in a runoff for State Senate. State Sen. Bruce Holland supported the private option, but was defeated for re-election by state Rep. Terry Rice, a formidable primary opponent in his own right. That may have happened regardless of Holland's position.

Robert Coon: In the weeks leading up to the primary election, the private option seemed to be the topic of choice in both legislative and statewide races — including races for auditor and treasurer where the private option vote doesn’t have any real practical relevance going forward. But for all the attention given to the private option, it turned out not to be the singular “kill-shot" issue that many thought — and some hoped — that it would be. Combined with other contrast issues or voting record differences, however, the private option did prove to be an effective wedge issue, and some candidates took advantage of that.

The other main takeaway in my view is the questionable effect of outside money in these primary races. American Future Fund spent considerable funds in support of attorney general candidate David Sterling, yet he finished in second place (headed toward a runoff with Leslie Rutledge). Americans for Prosperity worked to support state Rep. Randy Alexander, who lost to Lance Eads, and targeted State Sen. Bill Sample and state Rep. Sue Scott, both of whom easily won their races. 

Hey Big Spender

Lance: Well, and speaking of outside spending, the ad blitz mounted by the Law Enforcement Alliance of America in favor of Supreme Court candidate Robin Wynne certainly paid off. Wynne won his race over Tim Cullen, who  — like the New York Times — decried the influence of “dark money” in the judicial race. What does this portend for the fall? What’s your forecasts for outside money at work in all these races in the general election?

Blake: I was watching the coverage on KATV and there were interviews with Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton and they were both asked about the role of outside money. The answers they gave were significantly different. Pryor was critical of the influence of money, particularly dark money, in aftermath of Citizens United. Cotton appeared almost encouraged by it, in the name of free speech at least. Nevertheless, outside money will be considerable, particularly in the races for senate and governor but also, I suspect, for congress in the 2nd and 4th districts where special interests on both sides will see an opportunity to influence outcomes. Good or bad, it's our new normal

Robert: The ultimate effect of outside money in the Supreme Court race between Cullen and Wynne is a little murkier. The onslaught of ads targeting Cullen received a fair amount of criticism from Cullen supporters, pundits and more engaged voters that were tuned in to that race — though generally speaking that’s a small universe of people. In some cases, the ads may have actually increased support for Cullen among the more informed political classes if they felt the ads were misleading, distasteful or hyperbolic, as some alleged. However, one can only assume that the ads had their intended effect on the average Arkansas voter, who likely had minimal awareness of either candidate before the election.



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