Super Tuesday Arrives In Arkansas, And So Do Democratic Presidential Candidates
Arkansas is part of Super Tuesday, the largest single-day primary nationwide, when voters in 14 states and American Samoa will choose which of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates to award more than one-third of all total Democratic delegates to.
And though the state is solidly red, candidates are making their respective efforts to court Arkansas voters.
Staffers for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign coordinated their efforts from an office on Main Street in downtown Little Rock. Perhaps his most prominent local endorsement comes from Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., the co-chair of the Mike for Black America National Leadership Council.
State Director Evan Tanner says, though Bloomberg’s self-funded campaign has faced widespread criticism, he stands the best chance to win in the general election.
"Voters are now realizing that we can't have really everything we want in a candidate, that there's no perfect candidate," Tanner said. "The important thing to consider here is, what is the best way to remove Donald Trump from office?"
Bloomberg’s late entrance into the race means Super Tuesday will be the first time he actually appears on a ballot. Senior Advisor Amanda Crumley says that puts Bloomberg at an advantage over other Democrats, who’ve pumped resources into early primary and caucus states.
"I think it's a brilliant strategy and I think in the future other campaigns might look at that as well," Crumley said.
Polling in Arkansas has been scarce ahead of Super Tuesday. The one most frequently cited by media locally and nationally has been the Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College Poll, which surveyed just under 500 people, mainly white voters over 45 years old, in early February.
That poll shows Bloomberg as the frontrunner in Arkansas, but with just a little over a 1% lead over former Vice President Joe Biden, which is within the margin of error. Bloomberg and Biden have been similarly close in the polls in other southern states with large African American populations.
But Bloomberg’s policies while leading the country’s largest city, like the use of stop-and-frisk policing, have given the Biden campaign a chance to attack.
On Sunday morning, Dr. Jill Biden sat with worshippers at First Baptist Church in North Little Rock. She stood before the congregation, telling them her husband would seek to right historical wrongs.
"His faith is that we can change the story when we see the past for what it is and understand the reality of our present. Racism, institutionalized. The redlining and gentrifying of our neighborhoods. Our brothers and sisters, racially profiled. Disproportionality in our schools and environmental injustice," Biden said.
Biden has picked up endorsements from several prominent members of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, and from a former Senate colleague; Blanche Lincoln, who switched her endorsement from Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar before she dropped out Monday.
Klobuchar also made an appearance in North Little Rock a little over a week before exiting the race, and pitched herself as someone who gets things done by building consensus.
"And I think you know that we need someone at the top of the ticket that has that ability; the empathy, but also the ability, to bring people with her," Klobuchar said.
At the rally, undecided voter Joy Reed said she’s giving every candidate a chance to win her over.
"Neither political party really represents my interests 100%. I lean right on some issues, left on others, and I don't really fit in with the mainstream of either," Reed said.
Klobuchar’s absence, along with the exit of former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has left more moderate voters like Reed with two fewer candidates to choose from. Speaking before Buttigieg dropped out of the race, campaign volunteer Josh Hall said his candidate’s centrist message appealed to lifelong Republican voters in Arkansas.
"They've never voted for a Democrat in their life, but his message of unity, of working together, of taking on this polarization that the country's fallen into, and I think that that would resemble exactly how it would be in a Buttigieg presidency," Hall said.
Buttigieg and Klobuchar have both since endorsed Joe Biden’s bid for the nomination.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the field in total delegates heading into Super Tuesday. Ian Bitts says he chose to volunteer for the Sanders campaign because of his newborn daughter.
"I knew that she wouldn't be able to have any influence on the sort of world that she would grow up in until after it had already gotten worse than it is today, so I knew I needed to be her advocate," Bitts said.
Bitts says Sanders’ presence in Arkansas is made up entirely of volunteers, many of whom supported him in his 2016 primary bid against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And though some might consider it a longshot, Bitts says Sanders could feasibly win half of the state’s 31 delegates up for grabs.
But Sanders has drawn criticism, especially from moderate candidates, for being too polarizing. Policy goals like "Medicare for all" and marijuana decriminalization could be uphill battles in Republican-controlled states and legislative bodies. But Bitts says Sanders could achieve his goals if his supporters maintain a unified front.
"What we would need to do as supporters is to come together and let our senators now that these aren't policies and ideas that were willing to give up on. If you're not willing to support them, then your seat in office is going to be in jeopardy the next time you're up for election."
Another progressive, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has long been considered a strong candidate, bolstered by debate performances and her numerous policy plans. But she has only eight pledged delegates, compared to 60 for Sanders and 54 for Biden.
Michael Kendall attended a rally featuring Warren in North Little Rock on Saturday, and said he still supports her over the two frontrunners.
"Joe Biden and [Bernie] Sanders have talking points, but she actually has an actual plan step-by-step on how she's going to achieve certain things. So for me, that's important," Kendall said.
Like Sanders, Warren often says her lofty policy goals aren’t out of step with the hopes of most American voters. Speaking to the crowd, she compared existing property taxes to her proposed 2 cent wealth tax on the top one-tenth of the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
"We can do universal child care and early education for every baby in this country age 0 to 5, universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America. And we can stop exploiting the people, largely women, largely African American women and Latinas, who do this work. We can raise the wages of every child care worker and preschool teacher in America," Warren said.
No matter the outcome of Super Tuesday, Warren supporter Michael Kendall says this current election cycle will decide a lot more than who sits in the Oval Office for the next four years.
"It's kind of history-changing, more than us having the first black president. But, you know, four more years of what we have right now could end democracy."
KUAR is a content partner of KASU based in Little Rock. Read more news from central Arkansas here.