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Parties make final push in Arkansas as election nears

State, congressional seats, ballot issues up to voters by Michael R. Wickline | November 6, 2022 at 7:50 a.m.
Supporters of a candidate cavort across the street from a polling place in Little Rock's Hillcrest neighborhood Tuesday afternoon, March 3, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/John Sykes Jr.)

In Tuesday's general election, Arkansas voters will decide on the successor to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize recreational marijuana and three other proposed ballot measures.

Voters also will determine whether Republicans continue to hold a U.S. Senate seat, the state's four congressional offices, and the state's six other constitutional offices, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, treasurer and land commissioner.

They also will cast ballots to elect a state Supreme Court justice, decide whether the Republican supermajority in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate ends, shrinks or expands, and vote on a slew of local government offices, including the heated four-candidate race for mayor in Little Rock.

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston's office has projected that 916,674, or about 51%, of the state's 1.79 million registered voters will cast ballots in this year's general election. That forecast is roughly in line with the turnout in the past two midterm elections in 2014 and 2018.

Early voting started Oct. 24. Monday is the final day of early voting and will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Through Thursday, 363,255 early voters cast ballots compared with 342,570 at the same time during the last midterm election in 2018, according to the secretary of state's office.

Polls open Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

With Hutchinson barred by the state's term limits amendment from seeking reelection, Republican gubernatorial nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Democratic nominee Chris Jones, and Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. are vying for a four-year term.

Polls released during the past two months have shown Sanders leading Jones and Harrington, but the margin of her lead has been in dispute based on these polls.

State Democratic Party Chairman Grant Tennille said Jones" has run a remarkable race and I believe that he is going to get us a stronger result than any gubernatorial candidate since [Democratic Gov.] Mike Beebe in 2010."

In 2014, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross won 41.5% of the votes for governor against Republican rival Hutchinson, who won 55.4% of vote. Ross' performance is the best of any Democratic gubernatorial candidate since Beebe won 64% of the votes in 2010.

Tennille said he expects Jones to exceed Ross' performance and garner about 45% of the votes cast in the governor's race.

"I am not discounting the fact ... that we could see a huge surge right down at the end and he wins," Tennille said.

Seth Mays, director of the Republican Party of Arkansas' Victory campaign, said there is enthusiasm in the GOP for Sanders, a former White House press secretary for Donald Trump and the daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"I see an incredibly motivated base, a candidate with absolute universal name ID, who has totally broke every fundraising record and has put that to good use," he said.

Mays said he expects Sanders, of Little Rock, to win more than 60% of the votes cast in the governor's race.

Janine Parry, a professor of political science and director of the Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said she has been tracking the governor's race closely.

"Mainly I've been curious about the lingering narrative that such a race could be competitive this year, given that the statewide Democratic average for governor, U.S. Senate, and presidential contests since 2012 has been 36 percent," she said in a written statement.

Parry said there is no doubt Jones has injected some energy into a minority party candidacy, but it's hard to imagine a contest otherwise more lopsided than this.

"And our traditional sampling technique -- which over-represents older folks with higher incomes and educational attainment, like mid-term voters -- bears that out," she said. "Of course, polls -- even mine -- aren't elections. So [it's] still possible I could be surprised."

Heather Yates, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Arkansas, said most of the statewide and congressional races in Arkansas are aligning with expectations, and Republican candidates are leading their opponents in public opinion polls.

Mays said he doesn't have concerns about any GOP candidates for statewide office or congressional office losing because Arkansas is a solid Republican state, and the Republican Party of Arkansas has made a significant investment in data.

"I don't think there has been any faux pas committed by any campaign," he said. "We are not out there disavowing our congressional candidates or our statewide candidates because they are arrested or any of that stuff."

"I think anytime the [Democratic Party of Arkansas] in cycle has to put out two statements saying, 'we did not recruit these candidates,' that's just not a place to be in," he said.

Tennille responded that "There are Republican candidates on the ballot who have either broken the law or are open and avowed extremists.

"Arkansas Republicans haven't distanced themselves or condemned this criminal and/or unethical behavior, and that speaks volumes about how extreme their party has become," he said in a written statement.

Tennille said Democrats believe in addressing issues directly and being transparent with voters because it's the right thing to do.

The state's treasurer race includes Republican state Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle, Democratic candidate Pam Whitaker of Little Rock, and Libertarian candidate Simeon Snow.

Tennille questioned whether "there will be enough anti-Lowery vote out there to pull [Whitaker] across the line.

"This is actually one where we lucked into the person, who is perfectly suited to become the treasurer of the state of Arkansas," he said.

In the race for position 2 on the state Supreme Court, District Judge Chris Carnahan of Conway is seeking to oust state Supreme Court Justice Robin Wynne, who has served on the state's high court since 2015.


Issue 4 would allow the sale of cannabis to people 21 or older, prohibit advertising and packaging designed to appeal to children, provide regulatory oversight by limiting the number of licensed businesses, and not allow homegrown cannabis. It would limit the number of cannabis licenses to 20 cultivators and 120 dispensaries statewide, which includes existing medical marijuana licenses. Lotteries would be held for 40 dispensary licenses and 12 cultivator licenses.

The three other proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot include Issue 1 that would allow the Legislature to call itself into special session, and Issue 2 that would require 60% of voters rather than a majority of voters for approval of a proposed constitutional amendment and a proposed initiated act.

Issue 3 would prohibit the government from burdening a person's freedom of religion unless the government can demonstrate that it furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest

Parry said it's difficult to poll these proposed constitutional amendments accurately because summarizing the legalese on the phone is nearly impossible.

"For my money, the opponents of 1, 2, and 4 have injected enough doubt that voters vote those down," she said in a written statement. "I bet measure 3 passes because it's shorter and Arkansans staring at a ballot would be hard-pressed to vote against additional protection for religious expression."

Yates said the fates of some of these proposed constitutional amendments remain a mixed bag heading into this week.

"Ballot Issues two and four attracted the most public attention and mobilized hefty resources around a vigorous information campaign," she said in a written statement.

"Opposition to authorizing recreational consumption of marijuana (ballot issue No. 4) has experienced the most dramatic movement," Yates said. "This dramatic increase in opposition is very likely reflective of the opposition's effectiveness in using radio ads and direct mailers."

Jordan Butcher, an assistant professor of political science at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, said Arkansas is unique in that, unlike some other more conservative states, "we do enact a number of more socially liberal policies.

"So although Issue 4 may be controversial to some, there is a trend for Arkansas to pass this sort of issue," she said in a written statement.


Arkansas voters will elect 100 state representatives and 35 state senators in the general election.

The Arkansas House of Representatives currently includes 78 Republicans and 22 Democrats; the Arkansas Senate includes 27 Republicans, seven Democrats and an independent.

In November 2021, the state Board of Apportionment, comprising the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, approved new boundaries for legislative districts with information from the 2020 U.S. census.

Tennille said "our stated goal from the beginning was to try to bust the Republican supermajority in the Legislature, and we think we still got races in play that will enable us to do that."

That would mean Republicans would have fewer than 75 seats in the House of Representatives and/or fewer than 27 seats in the Senate, he said.

Tennille said the state Board of Apportionment's redrawing of the districts for Democratic state Reps. Steve Magie of Conway in House District 56, David Fielding of Magnolia in House District 98 and David Whitaker of Fayetteville in House District 22 made their their reelection bids more competitive, but he said he believes Magie, Fielding and Whitaker will win their races.

Conway Republican Trent Minner and Libertarian candidate Howard Heffington of Conway are challenging Magie. Camden Republican Wade Andrews is taking on Fielding again. Fayetteville Republican Brian Hester is making another attempt at ousting Whitaker.

"There were people two weeks ago continuing to talk about [state Rep.] Ashley Hudson as being in danger, but I think she is performing incredibly solidly and I've got a lot of confidence in that race," Tennille said.

Little Rock Republican Heather Turchi is jousting with Hudson, a Little Rock Democrat, in House District 75.

Mays said he expects the Republican candidates to oust Fielding, Hudson, Magie and Whitaker.

He said he anticipates that Blytheville Republican Joey Carr will win in House District 34 -- with Democratic state Rep. Monte Hodges of Blytheville challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro -- and Springdale Republican DeAnna Hodges will get the majority of the votes in House District 9.

Mays said Sanders' gubernatorial campaign coupled with the unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden will benefit Republicans in state House races.

Osceola Democrat Ollie Collins is vying with Carr. DeAnna Hodges is jockeying with Springdale Democrat Diana Gonzales Worthen and Libertarian candidate Steven Stilling of Springdale in House District 9.

Tennille said Worthen "probably has the best chance" to win a state House of Representatives post in the Interstate 49 corridor to the Springdale and Lowell area.

He said House District 34 "obviously has looked more and more and more red over the last few years, but I think that is one that is going to come down to candidate quality, and we've got the right candidate [in Collins]."

Mays said Little Rock Republican Jon Wickliffe, a moderate, is waging a valiant effort to oust Democratic Rep. Andrew Collins of Little Rock in House District 73 in a Democratic-leaning district. Libertarian candidate Miles McConnell of Little Rock also is seeking the House District 73 seat.

Tennille said Wickliffe is working hard and is popular in Little Rock, but Collins has worked hard for his constituents and will beat Wickliffe.

Mays said he's very confident the 78-member House Republican Caucus will have at least 80 members after the general election, and could potentially have up t0 84 or 85 members.

In north Pulaski County, Tennille said Democratic House candidates Jannie Cotton of Sherwood and Judson Scanlon of North Little Rock and state Senate candidate Allison Sweatman of North Little Rock have worked incredibly hard.

"I don't know that we will win all three, but I think we have got a chance to win all three," he said.

Cotton is challenging Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood, in House District 67. Scanlon is competing with state Rep. Carlton Wing, R-North Little Rock, and Libertarian candidate Payton Perks of North Little Rock in House District 70.

In Senate District 13, Sweatman is vying with Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, and Libertarian candidate Noah Jones of North Little Rock.

Mays said he expects the Senate Republicans to increase their ranks by at least one to 28 in the general election.

He said Republican state Senate candidate Terry Fuller of Poplar Grove "might end up pulling it out on election night" against Democratic state Rep. Reginald Murdock of Marianna in Senate District 9.

But Tennille said that "right at this very moment, Reggie is beating him badly.

"It's not a district, barring the entire election being thrown out, that their candidate would have any shot at," he said.

Print Headline: Parties make final push as election nears


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