What might 2018’s midterm elections hold for Arkansas?
The state will again be choosing its statewide officers — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and land commissioner.
Plus, all of the seats in both the federal and state Houses of Representatives are theoretically open, although some if not many of the incumbents will see no challenge at all.
How much electoral activity this state sees will depend in part on what U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s future is in the Trump administration.
There isn’t supposed to be a Senate race in Arkansas next year; but the possibility that Cotton might leave the U.S. Senate for a Trump cabinet post, which has been rumored for weeks, could open the way for just such a high-profile election.
Cotton’s Senate term actually extends through 2020. An immediate replacement, should one be necessary, would be appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
How long that appointee would serve depends on how soon the vacancy occurs, which is another complicating factor for 2018 elections in Arkansas.
If Cotton were to vacate his seat by July, Arkansans will be voting on a new senator in the November 2018 election.
If the vacancy comes later than July, the next senatorial election would be in 2020, when Cotton would be up for re-election.
Who might seek that seat, were it to become available?
Usually, such a high-profile office draws candidates who already hold office. Frequently, the House of Representatives provides the bench. Cotton was himself a former House member, as was Arkansas’ other U.S. senator, John Boozman.
Naturally, immediate speculation about a Cotton successor turned to some of the state’s congressmen, all of whom are Republicans like Cotton, and to a state officeholder or two, also all Republicans.
All of those people face the same reality. If they are to run for re-election to their relatively safe seats, whether in the U.S. House or the statehouse, they must make the decision soon.
The party filing period begins Feb. 22 and ends March 1. Primary elections are May 22. Campaigns should already be being assembled.
But the what-if question remains. What if the Senate seat opens up?
All this speculation stems from Washington talk that President Donald Trump is considering replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, currently director of the Central Intelligence Agency. It is the potential opening at CIA for which Cotton is supposedly being considered.
Some shakeup in Trump’s cabinet is likely in the New Year, but there’s no certainty that Cotton will be part of it.
Less certain is whether national trends that saw special elections of Democrats in other states, including ruby-red Alabama, could impact Arkansas.
The question is whether any of the incumbent officeholders, most of whom are Republicans, will face credible opposition — and whether the Arkansas electorate wants change.
Perhaps the trend could continue here, if reaction to the Trump presidency differs from the state’s support of his candidacy.
Candidate Trump scored big in Arkansas and President Trump’s job rating here remains better than in most states, although there is resistance, too.
A more likely scenario is that any real contests for office will happen in the state’s Republican primary, where all of those incumbent officeholders have a definite edge.
State Democrats are mounting some challenges, including one for governor against the popular incumbent Republican, Hutchinson.
A political newcomer, Democrat Jared Henderson has announced his bid for governor, but it is a long shot.
Democrats have much to do to reclaim Arkansas public offices that have gone increasingly to Republicans.
Based on those special elections elsewhere that favored Democrats, 2018 may offer state Democrats their best opportunity in quite a while.
A high-profile U.S. Senate race, should it happen, could even make the state’s politics all the more interesting.
That race would overwhelm any others, of course, with the introduction of strong national interest and lots of outside money.
It could also pull more people to the polls and influence all outcomes.
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Brenda Blagg is a freelance columnist. E-mail comments or questions to brendajblagg@gmail. com .