A small number of voters turned out during the primary election Tuesday to decide who will be on the ballot for Election Day in November.
State Rep. David Meeks, R-District 46, fought a contentious battle with newcomer Price Dooley, an assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas, for the newly drawn district 70 in the state House of Representatives.
Meeks outpaced Dooley early and ended up taking the seat by a margin of 755 votes to 278 in Faulkner County, according to unofficial results. Meeks trounced Dooley with a 73 percent victory with 14 out of 14 precincts reporting before 9 p.m.. District wide, Meeks won by 72 percent, catching 1,461 votes to Dooley’s 562 with Perry and Faulkner counties reporting, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State.
District 70 covers Faulkner County west of Highway 365 to the river and most of Conway. The district includes a sliver of Perry County.
"It’s exciting for us to win the primary — it says a lot about our support and our message," Meeks said. "Our message resonated, we stayed positive and the people responded."
Supporters gathered with Meeks at Larry’s Pizza of Arkansas in downtown Conway to watch the votes roll in Tuesday night. From his watch party, Meeks said the atmosphere was festive with "a lot of happy people."
Both candidates for the new district are Conway residents and supported making Arkansas more business friendly. The 40-year-old Meeks has served one previous term in the house and serves on committees that include the House committee on public health, welfare and labor.
Meeks said he campaigned on issues, including not increasing the tax on natural gas and finding ways to prevent a looming $400 million deficit in state Medicaid. Dooley’s campaign included TV ads that pointed out Meek’s employment of his wife. Meeks said voters had concerns that their lawmakers, including Meeks, didn’t represent them and weren’t looking out for their best interests.
"It was really about looking at the focus of Arkansas," Dooley said Monday. "[Representatives] weren’t focusing on budget issues. They weren’t focusing on jobs."
But, voters chose to stay the course with Meeks.
Dooley conceded defeat Tuesday night from his home.
"My opponent — he ran a hard race, and the people have spoken," Dooley said.
In Heber Springs, two residents ran a tight race for the House seat in district 66, but Josh Miller, city councilman, pulled ahead of Phil Grace, a Cleburne County justice of the peace. The district covers the area west of Greenbrier, including Bono and Enola.
"I knew it was going to be close," said Miller, who was at the courthouse surrounded by friends.
Faulkner County voters unofficially approved Miller, giving him 416 votes to Grace’s 191 with eight out of eight precincts voting. Statewide, the secretary of state’s office showed Miller won by 54 percent of the votes, or 1,224 votes cast for Miller and 1,052 cast for Grace with Van Buren County not yet reporting by press time Tuesday night.
The senate seat race was also a nail biter.
Rep. Ed Garner, of Maumelle, barely lost to Rep. David Sanders, of Maumelle, for the Senate seat for district 15, which includes part of Van Buren, Faulkner, Pulaski and Perry counties and all of Conway County. Garner is serving his third term as representative for district 41. Sanders is serving his first term in the House for district 31.
Sanders did not answer a phone call Tuesday night.
Garner carried Faulkner County with voters casting 683 ballots for Garner, compared to 678 for Sanders and 12 out of 12 precincts reporting. But district wide, 2,173 votes went to Sanders and 1,967 votes went Garner by 10:45 p.m., according to the Arkansas Secretary of State. Sanders was carrying the day with 52 percent of the vote but Van Buren had not yet reporting, according to the secretary of state. Sanders won three counties out of the district’s five-county area, according to the secretary of state website.
With their candidates in place, the Republican Party will be looking to seize the majority in the state legislature on Election Day. Meeks will square off against Democrat Cody Bassham of Conway for district 70. Miller will face Democrat Jeff Pistole of Clinton, and Sanders will race against Democrat Johnny Hoyt of Morrilton.
None of the Democratic primaries for state legislature races in Faulkner County were contested.