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Don't expect Arkansas to be a hotbed for change in this year's midterm elections.

It's a different story nationally, especially with precursor elections demonstrating that many of the nation's voters are switching allegiances.

This is Arkansas. An upset here or there may be possible, but the close of the state's filing period last week suggested a lot of incumbents in Arkansas will likely carry on after this year's vote.

Voters will have lots of choices, but incumbents have a clear advantage going into the election season. Incumbents always do.

They have the automatic name recognition any challenger must work to build. They have their own campaign support systems in place, including within their respective political parties. And those factors help them attract easy campaign financing that challengers must scrap for.

Nevertheless, the good news is that none of the state's four congressmen totally escaped challenge. Neither did the governor nor other statewide officeholders.

There will be contests of some sort for each of the congressional seats and all of the statewide offices in this year's primaries or general election. The primaries will be May 22; the general election Nov. 6.

In some cases, there is no incumbent because an elected official is term-limited and the office is open.

It is always good for incumbents to have to defend their records.

It doesn't help that many of the challengers are unknown, whether they are Republican and Democrat, Libertarian or write-in.

Here is the lineup, by office, for this year's congressional elections:

• 1st District -- U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, will face two general election foes: Chintan Desai, D-Helena, and Elvis Presley, L-Star City.

• 2nd District -- U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, has drawn three Democratic challengers: Paul Spencer of Scott, Clarke Tucker of Little Rock and Jonathan Duckley of Little Rock. Joe Ryne Swafford of Maumelle is a Libertarian challenger.

• 3rd District -- U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, will get a primary opponent, Republican Robb Ryerse of Springdale, and a smorgasbord of general election challengers, including Josh Mahony, D-Fayetteville; Michael Kalagias, L-Rogers; Josh Moody, I-Fayetteville and Jason Tate, a write-in from Fayetteville.

• 4th District -- U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, similarly faces a primary race from Randy Caldwell, R-Hot Springs Village, and multiple general election challenges from Hayden Catherine Shamel, D-Hot Springs; Tom Canada, L-Scranton; Susan Ann Martin, write-in from Hamburg; Lee McQueen, I-Texarkana; and Jack Foster, I-Pine Bluff.

The most interesting of the challenges in the congressional races will likely be in the state's 2nd District where Rep. Hill's challengers include Clarke Tucker, a state legislator who enjoys his own name recognition and has greater organization than some of the others.

The hard truth is Arkansas remains a strong Republican state.

Granted, the intensity of concern at the national level over the way the Republican-led Congress has done its job may cause some voters this year to vote "anything but Republican," even in Arkansas. But any such support will have to unite behind specific challengers or incumbent Republicans will likely sweep re-election.

Everything depends, of course, on how the drama plays out in Washington, D.C., where the investigations of the president and his campaign lead and how the Congress acts on critical issues -- including school safety and gun control.

These are volatile times and public sentiment can change to match the times.

As of now, however, statewide elections don't seem any more likely than the federal elections in Arkansas to bring change.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the Republican incumbent, drew challenges from Jan Morgan, R-Hot Springs; Mark West, L-Batesville; Jared Henderson, D-Little Rock; and Leticia Sanders, D-North Little Rock.

Morgan's hard-right stance on guns has brought her primary challenge to Hutchinson some attention, but it is Henderson, if anyone, who might offer a more significant challenge.

The bottom line is Hutchinson has been a popular governor, surprising many on the other side of the political aisle even as he has mostly pleased his Republican base.

How he does down the line may depend on how much the governor responds to the right-wing tug he faces in the Republican primary.

For the record, incumbents Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, Auditor Andrea Lee, Lieutenant Gov. Tim Griffin and Treasurer Dennis Milligan, all Republicans, each have challengers, too.

Rutledge faces Mike Lee, D-Little Rock and Kerry Hicks, L-Mena. Lea is being challenged by David Dinwiddie, L-Pine Bluff. Griffin's opposition comes from Frank Gilbert, L-Tull, and Anthony Bland, D-Little Rock. Milligan will face Ashley Ewald, L-Uniontown.

Again, the incumbents will likely dominate.

Meanwhile, there are races for land commissioner and secretary of state that do not have incumbents. Or, not exactly.

Republican John Thurston, the current land commissioner, is term-limited in that job. He is seeking the secretary of state job. So are Trevor Drown, R-Dover, Christopher Olson, L-Viola, and Susan Inman, D-Little Rock.

The land commissioner post is being sought by Tommy Land, R-Heber Springs, T.J. Campbell, L-Bentonville, and Larry Williams, D-Hot Springs. Incumbent Mark Martin is term-limited.

The secretary of state's race is the one to watch between these two.

Challengers in all the races will be sorely tested to draw attention to any of these Arkansas elections. They may prove to be pretty much of a snore this year.

Commentary on 03/07/2018

Print Headline: Challenging times

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