TAMPA, Fla. – Arkansas Republicans headed home from their national convention confident that they will make history in November.
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb confidently predicted victory for Mitt Romney, a sweep of the four congressional seats and a GOP majority in the state Senate and House where Democrats have reigned for 138 years.
Just how confident?
"We’ll carry our state for Team Romney and Ryan, but our goal is to have the largest margin of victory in the United States," said Webb. "I think it could be a 20 to 25 point margin."
In 2008, Arkansas voters went heavily for Republican John McCain, who lost the national contest to President Barack Obama. The Arizona senator carried the state with 58.7 percent of the vote – besting Obama by a 19.8 point margin.
The 2010 mid-term elections saw Republicans capture three of the state’s four U.S. House seats. U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, the only Democratic incumbent who ran for re-election, won but is retiring this year. Republican Tom Cotton of Dardanelle is widely favored to win Ross’ seat this year against the Democratic challenger, state Sen. Gene Jeffress of Loann.
After significant gains the Legislature two years ago, the GOP is making a strong push this year to win majorities in the House and Senate for the first time since 1874. Democrats now hold a 54-46 advantage in the General Assembly and a 20-15 majority in the Senate.
Webb said that Republican delegates, alternates and guests from Arkansas are returning home now "very excited and motivated" to win on Nov. 6.
"They’ve heard great speeches, great statements and great plans for America. I know our delegates and alternates will go home and give witness to what they have heard here and spread it throughout Arkansas," he said.
State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said polling shows most Arkansans share the "pro-business, pro-growth conservative" values of the Republican Party.
Arkansas Democrats, he said, claim they are moderates and not the liberals who control Washington, but the truth is otherwise.
"When people say an Arkansas Democrat is different than in Washington that is not true. They vote the same way," said Rapart, who is in a hotly contested race with Democratic state Rep. Linda Tyler of Conway for a newly drawn state Senate seat.
Webb sees that when it comes to support for Obama’s health care reform lawl, which Republicans have stalwartly opposed. Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, and Democrats in the Legislature have worked to implement "Obamacare" rather than stop it, he said.
Webb expects Arkansas candidates will get a boost from having Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at the top of the ticket and Obama as a target.
"The message is the policies of President Obama have failed, there is no plan to change those policies and the Republican Party is the party that has the plan," Webb said.
The top issue will be jobs, he said.
"Obama has had four years to turn this economy around and turn this country around and he has squandered that opportunity," Webb said. "We’ve got to get our economy moving and there is no one better to do it than Mitt Romney."
Webb said Republican grassroots activists in Arkansas are motivated and county committees are engaged. They’ve been ordering yard signs and bumper stickers, he said.
State Rep. Ann Clemmer, R-Benton, said the tide is changing. No longer are Republicans looked at as an oddity in Arkansas as they were just a dozen years ago. Republicans have grown in numbers and grown in respect.
"I’ve been doing radio interviews for 12 to 15 years in Little Rock and the questions are a little less hostile than they used to be," said Clemmer, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Clemmer said that after Republicans become the majority in the Legislature, they will still have to contend with Beebe, whose term is not up until 2014. Republicans, she said, will have to "get it right" so that they can’t be labeled as bomb throwers or obstructionists who simply want to tear down government.
"We are making the case for a two-party system and I am trying my best in the state Legislature to make sure Republicans are seen as credible," Clemmer said.