Ready to vote again?
Arkansas’ party primaries are May 22, and that’s when many of the most interesting and competitive races will be, rather than in the November general election.
What are the races to watch? Depends on where you live, but let’s focus on five.
In the governor’s race, Gov. Asa Hutchinson faces a challenge from Jan Morgan. The governor is popular statewide and had $2 million banked as of his last campaign finance report. Morgan, a political newcomer, has little money.
But Morgan has an anti-establishment, Trumpian appeal. The Hot Springs shooting range owner who banned Muslims from her business knows how to call attention to herself. She’ll be able to run to Hutchinson’s right on guns, probably the most important issue in a Republican primary. Primaries attract low turnouts with more restless, dogmatic voters. That means an officeholder, even one with widespread general support, can be taken down by a small percentage of the electorate.
Hutchinson will spend a chunk of his war chest reminding those primary voters that he likes guns, too, and that he cut taxes twice and made some Medicaid recipients work for their benefits. He’ll win, but she’ll make him sweat a little.
In the 2nd Congressional District, four Democrats are competing for the right to try to unseat Rep. French Hill: state Rep. Clarke Tucker, Paul Spencer, Gwen Combs and Jonathan Dunkley. Tucker is well connected in Little Rock, while Spencer has been active in campaign finance reform and other good government issues. Combs is a teacher, while Dunkley is a project manager at the Clinton School of Public Service. Nationally, Democrats have said they’re targeting Hill. The 2nd District theoretically could be competitive in November because of the heavy Democratic vote in Pulaski County. But outside that county are mostly Republican areas.
In an Arkansas Supreme Court race, Justice Courtney Goodson faces Court of Appeal Judge Kenneth Hixson and David Sterling, who lost to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in 2014. Goodson had a rough campaign two years ago when she tried unsuccessfully to run for chief justice. Outside money poured into the state in favor of her opponent, now-Chief Justice Dan Kemp. Now she’s running to keep her own seat. Judicial races are tough for voters and for pundits because candidates aren’t supposed to reveal how they would vote on particular cases. That lack of information increases the clout of that outside money.
Seven state Senate races have contested primaries, as do 20 House districts. Let’s focus on two in the Senate.
In District 16 in the Russellville area, Breanne Davis faces Bob Bailey in a runoff from an earlier three-candidate primary. The two are competing to replace deceased Sen. Greg Standridge. Like the governor’s race, this is an establishment Republican vs. Trump Republican contest, with Davis allied with Hutchinson and Bailey a supporter of Jan Morgan.
In District 5, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, is being challenged by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville. King and Ballinger are two of the Legislature’s most conservative members, but their styles differ. While Ballinger is jovial, King is a bomb-thrower who is often critical of his colleagues and the governor.
Those are the races I’ll be paying closest attention to, but there are others worth nothing. Two of the state’s four incumbent U.S. congressmen, Rep. Steve Womack in the 3rd District and Rep. Bruce Westerman in the 4th District, have primary challengers. Two Republicans, Land Commissioner John Thurston and Rep. Trevor Drown, R-Dover, are competing to be the party’s secretary of state nominee. Also, some Arkansans will be voting for school board members in May rather than September as a result of a law passed last year.
Voters will have many reasons to go to the polls May 22, if they can tear themselves away from arguing about politics on Facebook. Remember, you don’t have to be a member of a party – or even a fan of it – to vote in its primary.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.