Now that the dust has settled and I’ve had time to reflect, I wanted to post a quick analysis of what happened in Arkansas last night, from a progressive Arkie’s perspective. Keep in mind, this is only meant to be an analysis of last night, and of nothing that’s to come. I don’t think it’s a perfect analysis, but it is my take.
First, let’s start with the biggie, the AR-Sen race.
Dem primary-Obviously, it was a big night for Halter supporters like myself. Bill cleaned up in places I never imagined-dominating southwest Arkansas and picking up counties in Lincoln’s home turf-Cross, St. Francis, Greene, Poinsett, etc. What was odd was the fact that Lincoln won a few places where Halter was thought to be running strong in, namely Pulaski County, where Halter is from. There’s an interesting explanation for this, and I wouldn’t have thought of it myself if one of my associates on Blue Arkansas hadn’t pointed it out. Halter is running an anti-establishment campaign. You don’t get more establishment in Arkansas Democratic politics than Pulaski County. There has been a charge put out there that Halter drew in “GOP good ol’ boys”. It’s true that Halter did do better in rural, more conservative areas (which should put the electability suggestion Lincoln is trying to peddle to rest). However, I don’t think these count as Republican voters per se. They are socially conservative, but they don’t necessarily think government doesn’t work. They just think it’s not working for them. Halter’s populist message, I think, is resonating.
GOPer primary-With all the excitement on the Dem side, John Boozman was able to quietly walk to victory. Gilbert Baker’s campaign flamed out as he got more desperate for attention, becoming incredibly ridiculous. (Go to youtube and type in “sexy Arkansas cheerleader politician”.) The real drama, if there was any, was waiting to see if Jim Holt pulled into a runoff. If that had happened, Boozman could have been the next Trey Grayson. Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
Dems-former state senator Tim Wooldridge and Berry CoS Chad Causey have advanced to the runoff. We at Blue Arkansas were backing State Representative David Cook, a more progressive, populist style candidate, but he ended up placing third, the cash advantage being the problem. Wooldridge made it to this runoff by virtue of his name recognition from his Lt. Gov race against Halter. Causey by his connections to Berry.
GOP-Rick Crawford easily beat my old high school classmate Princella Smith. How many Republicans in Arkansas do you think really were enthusiastic about voting for a black woman?
Dems-State senator Joyce Elliott (a progressive hero in the state) surged to an incredibly high total in the initial primary that no one had expected. State house speaker Robbie Wills won everywhere outside Pulaski County, but not by impressive margins. High African American and progressive turnout was responsible for the Elliott surge.
GOP-Tim Griffin easily raised/spent far more money than his opponent, who did have some significan endorsements from folks like Mike Huckabee, the cash advantage carrying him over.
GOP primary-Weird dynamics in this one. Steve Womack (Rogers mayor) has been labeled as a RINO in the primary. Keep in mind, this is a man who’s so nutty on immigration George Bush said he was an extremist. Cecile Bledsoe managed to inch past Gunner Delay to challenge Womack in the runoff.
Two statewide office races were particularly noteworthy, the Secretary of State race and the Land Commissioner’s race. In both races, young, more progressive minded candidate running on ideas (Pulaski county clerk Pat O’Brien and businessman L.J. Bryant respectively) both surged to face establishment candidates in the Dem runoff (current Land Comm. Mark Wilcox in the SoS race and state rep. Monty Davenport in the Land Commissioner’s race). This is a big deal, as these offices are usually where Arkansas sends old politicians to retire, as in the case of our former Land Commissioner, current Sec. of State, and future Auditor Charlie Daniels. The fact that more issues oriented progressive policy wonks did so well last night is a huge deal for the state.
State legislature-Nothing dramatic on the state legislative front, except for maybe two things. The large black turnout in Pulaski county lead to the defeat of state representative Richard Carroll, the former Green turned Democrat, at the hands of state senator Tracy Steele. The saddest blow was this-Jay Barth, a great progressive running to be the first openly gay man elected to the state senate, was defeated after his opponent Linda Poindexter Chesterfield, ran an ad raising his sexual orientation and accusing him of racism for questioning her missed votes as a state rep. (Chesterfield is black and said that doing so amounted to playing to the stereotype of blacks as lazy.) For me, that was the lowest moment of the night. However, there was one good moment as Fayetteville sent a true progressive to the legislature, Greg Leding.