Arkansas GOP Aims for Statehouse, Congressional Sweep

LITTLE ROCK - Republicans hoped to seize control of Arkansas' Legislature and four congressional seats in Tuesday's election, while Democrats depended on the popularity of a two-term governor to overcome a general dislike of President Barack Obama as voters cast their ballots.

Results from 73 state House and Senate races would determine whether Republicans control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. The GOP was favored in congressional matchups around the state and Republican Mitt Romney was widely expected to win the state's six electoral votes over Obama, who lost the state in 2008 and fared poorly in this May's primary.

Dissatisfaction led Erin Teague, 32, to vote for Romney at the Cabot Community Center on Tuesday morning.

"I just don't like the way things have been going. People can't pay their bills," said Teague, who works at a law firm that specializes in debt collection. She said she voted a straight Republican ticket.

"I don't like the handouts," she said. "I believe in working, earning a buck. The way it is now, it's hurting the people in the middle class that are trying to earn a living."

Michael Robinson, 47, said in Cabot that he voted a largely Republican ticket but that he believed the president deserved another shot to lead the country.

"I just think he needs more time to get everything straightened out," said Robinson, a retired military man now working at the Little Rock Air Force Base as a civilian. "He had a bad start to run with. It's just going to take him more time."

Voting was heavy statewide. Nearly a half-million Arkansans voted early — a record — and election officials predicted that 65 percent of the state's 1.6 million registered voters will cast a ballot, or about 1.04 million.

State GOP leaders wanted to build on gains they made in the state two years ago, with Republican candidates and affiliated groups running ads trying to link Democrats throughout the state to Obama and his federal health care overhaul.

Democrats in turn relied increasingly on Gov. Mike Beebe, who was re-elected in 2010, to help his party stop a potential GOP takeover of the Legislature.

"I've been saying all along I think it's close. You see polls both ways," Beebe said Tuesday at his precinct in Searcy. "It's close right now. The House and Senate are close right now. I expect they'll be close one way or the other tomorrow morning."

Beebe, who leaves office in early 2015 and is not on this year's ballot, has said he wants to expand Medicaid under the new health care law when legislators return to Little Rock in January. Republicans want to explore cutting the income tax and possibly reducing state spending.

Republicans have not had a majority at the state Legislature since 1874, a run of 138 years, and Arkansas is the only former Confederate state where Democrats control the Legislature and the governor's office.

The GOP also hoped to win the state's only Democrat-held congressional seat in south Arkansas. U.S. Rep. Mike Ross' decision to not seek re-election has opened up a race between Republican Tom Cotton, an Army veteran and management consultant, and Democrat Gene Jeffress, a state senator.

The election pits Democrat Scott Ellington, a local prosecutor, against Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford in the bid for the 1st Congressional District in east Arkansas. Ellington helped negotiate the deal last year that freed three men who were convicted as teenagers in the 1993 murders of three Cub Scouts in West Memphis. Crawford, who was elected in 2010 partly on a pledge to oppose any tax increases, proposed hiking taxes on millionaires earlier this year in exchange for a balanced budget amendment.

In central Arkansas, Democrat Herb Rule challenged Republican Rep. Tim Griffin in the 2nd Congressional District. Republican Rep. Steve Womack did not face any major party opposition since his Democratic challenger withdrew his candidacy over questions about his military record.

Voters will also have a say on three ballot measures, including a proposal to allow patients with certain conditions to buy medical marijuana. If approved, it would make Arkansas the first southern state to legalize medical marijuana.

Steve Chamness, 36, of Cabot, said Tuesday he couldn't back legalizing pot even a little bit.

"As a police officer, I can't see that going very well," he said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)