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There were signs last week of a looming national Democratic wave in November. Meantime, the filing period for political candidacies opened in Arkansas.

Those two sentences probably are not related ... except maybe a little, in a locally isolated way.

National political waves typically don't wash over Arkansas until years later. The rest of the South went retro-Confederate by the 1990s. Arkansas conspicuously didn't join the neo-Rebel insurrection until 2010.

Nationally, the signs of a Democratic wave in the midterm elections seem clear enough. That I remain dubious is a personal hunch (some might call it pessimism).

It's based, actually, on one empirical factor, which is the tax cut. If you reduce working folks' taxes even only a little, they will tend to like it. If Republicans don't collapse nationwide in November's returns, it'll surely be that. (And that Nancy Pelosi didn't hide as effectively as she should have.)

Otherwise, here's the empirical data on a strictly political basis: Since Donald Trump's election in November 2016, there have been 37 special state legislative elections to fill vacancies around the country in seats that had been held by Republicans, but which Democrats won.

The most recent special election took place Tuesday in a rural state House district in Kentucky in which Trump defeated the rurally toxic Hillary Clinton in November 2016 by 49 points, 72-23.

A Baptist preacher and Republican won that state House seat at that time by a scant 160 votes over a Democratic woman. So the district already was more locally competitive than nationally so. Clinton was simply an especially bad candidate, especially after Russian Facebookers got finished with her.

The Baptist preaching Republican subsequently committed suicide upon being accused of molestation of a girl in his congregation. His widow ran in the special election to fill his seat against the Democratic woman her husband had narrowly beaten. This time, the Democratic woman won by 36 points.

A shift in 15 months from plus-42 to minus-36 for Republicans in a rural Kentucky legislative district ... that's misleading. There were local factors. And it's a federal race compared to a state district race, with Pelosi not a drag. But the shift is too abrupt and too vast to be disregarded altogether as a piece of evidence in the case for a national wave.

Midterms are about motivation. People are energized in resistance to Trump's style.

Many women are especially fired up. Suburban moderate Republicans hate bratty tweets, crude rhetoric and boorish behavior. Some of the moms don't like the Republican cowering before guns. Some don't like the congressional Republican performance on health care, both that it was inept and that it seemed mean.

In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court has thrown out comically drawn state legislative districts designed to protect Republicans. Last week the court replaced them with Philadelphia suburban districts that seem to give Democrats four more chances to compete than they had before.

Meantime, in Arkansas ...

All polling data as well as the lessons of history indicate that Arkansas, having gone over the Republican cliff in 2010, will stay wrecked in the ravine through this election and well beyond.

But here's what Michael John Gray, the state Democratic chairman, was observing last week: The party will produce more candidates this filing period than two years ago and will do so spontaneously. "I'm getting some credit, but I don't deserve it," he said.

As recently as 2014, the party was begging establishment Clinton-era figures like Mike Ross and James Lee Witt to run. This time, people whom Gray has never heard of have shown up to run for legislative seats as Democrats, sporting impressive resumes and strong convictions and presenting a new post-Clinton generation.

These new-age state legislative candidacies are concentrated mostly from Little Rock northwesterly to Benton County, the old Republican hotbed that is one of the most dynamic areas of the country and could well confront a full slate of Democratic legislative candidates this time.

"Dynamic" is the key word. What kept Arkansas politically inert all those years--and keeps most of it inert still--was the static population and static culture. But the northwest corner is not remotely static. It is drawing streams of new residents who bring with them strands of national trends that formerly didn't infiltrate.

No one is saying Benton County is going Democratic. But it's worth noting that the county is more old-line Republican than Trump Republican. The Trump devotion is perhaps less pronounced--less a motivator--than in eastern and southern Arkansas.

I'm mainly wanting to repeat what I wrote a few years ago when Bentonville opened one of the world's great art museums--the most "woke" art museum in the country, the Washington Post said a couple of weeks ago--and began to seem a little funkier.

It was that you can't have a world-class art museum without some progressives sniffing around.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 02/25/2018

Print Headline: A new dynamic

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