Nov. 11, 2015 — Candidate filing closed in Arkansas Monday night, the second state to qualify their upcoming slate of political aspirants, and already Democrats have virtually conceded all of the state’s congressional seats for the 2016 election. Three Republican representatives: Rick Crawford (R-AR-1), Steve Womack (R-AR-3), and Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4), will run without Democratic opposition next fall. This, in a state where the Dems controlled three of the four congressional positions as late as 2010. Republicans captured all four districts only in 2012.
The one incumbent facing general election competition will be freshman Rep. French Hill (R-Little Rock), in the 2nd District. Though this seat is marginally Republican today, it has elected many more Democrats than Republicans throughout its history. French likely will face former Little Rock School Board president Dianne Curry (D) in the general election.
Representatives Crawford, Womack, and Westerman face only Libertarian opposition, and all three are therefore guaranteed re-election. Rep. Hill has also drawn Republican primary competition, in the person of educator Brock Olree. Rep. Hill is a prohibitive favorite to win both re-nomination and re-election.
The lack of any Democratic congressional ticket tells us that the party establishment could not convince prospective candidates that former Secretary of State and Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton will be a major draw at the presidential nominee come next November. The lack of a strong undercard also says that the state party leaders, and possibly those at the national level, are conceding former President Bill Clinton’s home state without a fight. The trends in the past three elections have been so strongly Republican that it is unlikely such a swing will begin to sway back to the Democrats anytime soon.
But, the Senate race may be a different story. National Democrats did successfully recruit their top target, former US Attorney Conner Eldridge (D). Eldridge, who was the youngest US Attorney in the nation (at 38), resigned his position in order to run.
Late last week, and even into Sunday, it appeared that former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) who challenged then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 Democratic primary and forced her to a run-off before she was routed in the general election, was testing the political waters for a second senatorial run. He had gone so far as to conduct a poll to determine his political viability in such a race. Apparently, the survey results did not provide the former statewide office holder the encouragement he sought, since he did not file.
This means Eldridge is unopposed for his party’s nomination and will face first-term Sen. John Boozman (R) one year from now. Democrats are citing news stories that Republican leaders in Washington feel Boozman is not as prepared for re-election as he should be because his fundraising is not as high as they would like. The senator, however, has attracted more than $1.2 million for the campaign and has over $1.1 million in the bank. Those are low totals for today’s Senate races, but having over $1 million in his account in a small state with no dominant media market goes much further than for a commensurate race in a more expensive region.
For his part, Eldridge raised $403,000 for the quarter and has almost all of it on hand. Considering when he announced his candidacy (early September), the amount raised is evidence of a very credible early effort. Irrespective of the quality of an Eldridge challenge, however, Sen. Boozman is well positioned to claim a second six-year term.