When the story of the 2010 election is written, ground zero for the Obama backlash will be in Arkansas. Republicans will do well in other states, but anger directed toward the President and the liberal Congressional leadership is particularly intense in the Ozarks.
Obama did not visit this state during the 2008 campaign, and now 64% of voters disapprove of his performance. By strong majorities, votes also disapprove of the $863 stimulus, the $2.5 trillion health care reform bill and the $3.6 trillion omnibus budget.
Arkansas vs. DC
The outlook on Capitol Hill is far removed from sentiments in Arkansas. For example, the state constitution requires a balanced budget. This necessitated $200 million in budget cuts during the past year because of falling tax revenue, and Arkansas currently has a $23 million surplus. On Capitol Hill, the budget reductions would not have been made, and lawmakers would have approved increased borrowing.
The constitution also includes a right to work law, and voters passed a ban on same-sex marriage with a 74% majority. A proposal to allow concealed guns in church was a significant issue in the last session of the legislature. In addition to the Tea Party movement, the major initiative of conservatives this year was “Secure Arkansas.”
This proposed constitutional amendment would have denied state services to illegal immigrants. It needed 77,468 signatures to be placed on the ballot but only 67,542 signatures were submitted.
Arkansas Has a Strong Democratic Party
On the state level, Arkansas has vigorously supported Democrats, but their outlook is distinctly different from the national party. Democrats hold the Governorship and every statewide elected office (Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer and Land Commissioner). Arkansas has only elected one Republican Senator since 1900, and it has never re-elected a Republican Senator.
U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D), a moderate liberal, defeated that Republican and he was re-elected with 80% of the vote in 2008. Democrats have super-majority status in the General Assembly, which is the fourth most heavily Democratic legislature in the country. In 2004 in Arkansas, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) lost to George W. Bush in Arkansas by a 54% to 45% margin while in 2008 Obama was defeated by a 59% to 39% margin.
Obama made no effort to carry the state while Kerry had a southern running mate, Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and ran a campaign in the state. The Kerry campaign included radio ads by former Senators Dale Bumpers and David Pryor. Arkansas is the home of former President Bill Clinton who remains a popular figure. Clinton-style moderate New Democrats have done well in past state elections. Only two governorships in the entire nation are now rated safe for the Democrats.
One is New York and the other is Arkansas. Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has a 57% to 33% lead over former State Sen. Jim Keet (R). Beebe defeated former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) in 2006 with 55% of the vote to succeed retiring Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). Keet is emphasizing that Arkansas is the 5th fastest growing state based on he number of employees and it is the 12th fastest growing in debt. He is criticizing Beebe for supporting Cap and Trade, EFCA and Obama’s health care reform. On the federal level, according to this year’s survey data, nothing will stop the 2010 Republican tidal wave.
Senator Blanche Lincoln (D) vs. Rep. John Boozman (R)
The first castaway is expected to be Blanche Lincoln (D), the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She provided the final vote for passage of Obama’s health care reform legislatiion. Her support was crucial, but that did not help her with liberal activists because of her opposition to the public option and cap and trade.
On June 8th she survived a $10 million primary challenge organized by the Democratic Party’s left wing. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), labor unions and organizations such as Moveon.org said Lincoln was not liberal enough.
They spent so much money because they were convinced Senator Lincoln was going to lose based on the polling data from Research2000/DailyKos. After the vote, Daily Kos sued Research2000 and said the poll results had been fraudulent.
Lincoln portrays herself as a moderate, but self-described centrists are backing her Republican opponent. The Senator is losing to her GOP challenger, four term Rep. John Boozman, by a landslide. According to a June 15th Rasmussen poll, Boozman has a staggering 61% to 32% lead, with a third party fringe candidate receiving 4%.
No U.S. Senator has ever been re-elected with similar poll numbers. Lincoln has a 34% job approval rating while 56% disapprove.
Rep. Boozman says, “I would roll out the welcome mat if President Obama ever decided to come here to campaign for Lincoln, because his liberal policies are totally rejected in Arkansas.” Lincoln had Obama’s support in the primary and she continues to defend the stimulus.
Rep. Boozman says health care reform will “be terrible for Arkansas. It may drive small hospitals out of business, costing smaller communities high paying jobs and scaring away employers who don’t want to be in a town without a hospital.”
The House Delegation
The state has four Congressional districts and three of them are currently held by Democrats. It would not surprise anyone to see this shift to a 3 to 1 GOP advantage.
The open first district is considered a toss up. It has not elected a Republican since Reconstruction, but many signs are encouraging this year. GOP nominee Rick Crawford owns a radio broadcast network that focuses on agricultural issues, a dominant force in the district’s economy.
Democrats nominated Chad Causey, 34, who was retiring Rep. Marion Berry’s chief of staff. He was endorsed in the primary by Bill Clinton, the AFL-CIO and the Arkansas Education Association.
Causey won by less than 2000 votes out of 76,000, and his more conservative primary opponent, former State Sen. Tim Wooldridge, is refusing to endorse him. Wooldridge was endorsed by the NRA, and Blue Arkansas attacked him for being a member of a “hate group,” because his church organization opposed gay marriage.
The political rating agencies are now listing the Democratic second district as “Leaning Republican.” Liberal Rep. Vic Snyder (D) is retiring after five terms, and conservative former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin (R) has a commanding 50% to 34% lead.
A boost to Griffin was the upset in the Democratic primary. House Speaker Robbie Wills, a moderate, was defeated by liberal Senate Majority Leader Joyce Elliott.
Wills attacked her for being pro-choice, anti-gun and anti-school prayer, but that did not help him win the Democratic nomination. Elliott is best known for sponsoring legislation which gave college scholarships to illegal immigrants.
She is also one of the few candidates to endorse earmarks which are associated with pork barrel spending, as well as union card check.
This is the seat being vacated by Congressman Boozman who is running for the Senate. Republicans will easily retain this district, and the GOP has nominated Rogers Mayor Steve Womack.
In the primary he defeated State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, former State Sen. Gunner DeLay and former state Rep. Doug Matay (R), who was endorsed by Mike Huckabee who cited his “strong conservative Christian values.” Bledsoe had the endorsement of Sarah Palin.
Womack is expected to emerge as a leader of the GOP freshman class where he will be at loggerheads with the isolationists. He served 30 years in the Army National Guard and is a retired Colonel. Following the 9/11 attack, Womack’s battalion was mobilized for overseas duty, and he served in the Multinational Force in Sinai, Egypt.
Rep. Mike Ross (D) has received considerable national attention as Co-Chairman of the moderate Congressional Blue Dogs. The liberal Blue Arkansas website says “Mike Ross is way out of touch with his constituents. If ever there was a Democrat who needed to be run out in a primary, it’s him.” Ross is significantly ahead of the GOP’s Anne Rankin, but this is still not considered a safe seat for the Democrats.
Why Is The Situation So Bad For The Democrats in 2010?
President Obama’s national approval rating has declined sharply from the time he entered the White House. Nevertheless, for his second year in office, his approval score is in the same range as some of his predecessors. This group includes Bill Clinton (43%), Ronald Reagan (42%) and Jimmy Carter (40%), and they all experienced significant Congressional losses after the first two years in office.
The difference is described by retiring Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR), who worked in the Clinton administration before being elected to the House in 1996 to replace Blanche Lincoln. He says the Obama White House is politically tone deaf.
Berry, 67, has recounted meetings with White House officials where he pleaded with them not to force moderate Arkansas-style Blue Dogs Democrats “off into a swamp.”
The Congressman said it would be foolish to make these lawmakers cast votes which would be unpopular back home. He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all. They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The President himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’
We’re going to see how much difference that makes. I began to preach in January of 2009 that we had already seen this movie in 1994. We didn’t want to see it again because we know how it comes out. I just began to have flashbacks to 1993 and ’94. No one that was here in ’94 wants to go through with this again. It certainly wasn’t a good feeling.