Arkansas congressional incumbents survive hard-right challenges
Incumbent members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation who are up for reelection survived primary challenges from hard-right candidates during Tuesday’s election. But to maintain support from their Republican base, they had tout endorsements and images alongside former President Donald Trump.
A poll last month by Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College suggested U.S Sen. John Boozman might have had difficulty getting just over 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. But with 97.33% of the votes reported by the Secretary of States office by midday Wednesday, the incumbent had secured 58%, defeating former NLF player Jake Bequette, gun range owner Jan Morgan and pastor Health Loftis.
KUAR News spoke about this and other races with University of Central Arkansas political science professor Heather Yates. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
KUAR’s MICHAEL HIBBLEN: First, what did you make of the intra party struggle we saw within the GOP, not only in the Senate race but in other races?
DR. HEATHER YATES: So this was something that I had a great deal of interest in examining, heading into the primaries because we saw a very hard right turn at the establishment incumbents and it took on really an ideological litmus test, or purity test, if you will, where you had hard-right challenges to incumbent Republicans; any Republican who at any point in time had criticized the former president drew a challenge. And in all of the air war and the ground war, with all the messaging, there was a very straightforward, simple message directed at the incumbents and that they were not real Republicans, they were Republicans in name only and it was a litmus test of loyalty to Trump.
Yeah. And 2nd district Congressman French Hill, he was someone who was critical of the January 6th insurrection. He ended up fending off a challenge from military veteran Conrad Reynolds, but had to pull out images embracing former President Trump.
That's correct, French Hill really had to move toward the right on this one to demonstrate that, yes, he really is a Republican and furthermore, his record shows that he voted with Trump's policies about 95% of the time, and so he had to run on that and he had to pull that out to remind voters, demonstrating and showing voters that he, French Hill, had shared space with the president, had shook his hand, had been at the White House and was not this subversive Republican name only. So he had to dig into that treasure chest, that war chest most definitely to keep the 2nd congressional district.
And in the Republican primary in the race for governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as expected, won that race. But do you expect heading into the November general election we’ll see a shift toward more moderate territory?
For the Republican contest, I don't see Sarah Huckabee Sanders shifting or pivoting to the center, the reason being is because her boss never did when he was running for president. She is associated with that White House and even in her victory speech, in her acceptance speech she did not give any signals that she is going to pivot to that center. That's not really who her father was either. So, she is going to kind of stay in that trench where she's at. She's going to definitely be to the right of center, she is going to double down on that association that she has with Trump because that plays so well on the ground in Arkansas. She has no reason honestly to pivot to that center. Plus, it would be very inorganic for her to do that. That's not her politics, that's not her brand.
And how do you think Democrats should respond? Obviously Arkansas is still a very red state. How can Democrats do anything to give them even a shot at any of these state or congressional races?
I think a couple of things the Democrats need to do is to offer policy solutions, to define the problems, offer solutions. Secondly, to kind of offset the disadvantage they're at with fundraising, to really engage in what we call the retail politics, to get out in all counties, to talk to people, to shake hands, to go through that shoe leather, knock on doors. Something that Democrats are quite artful at is compensating for some of those financial deficits with just that person-to-person contact, and that does a couple of things for the Democrats. It builds the party apparatus on the ground. It also helps build party function with candidates recruitment and it makes the candidates stronger. It gives the voters an issue and a topic to associate with the candidate. So even if the Democrats are not successful in all the races they attempt, they are offering an alternative, a substantive alternative, and that's something that the Democrats are doing really well with this cycle.