A political strategist said he believed Tuesday’s primary election showed a desire for change among Arkansas voters.
Robert Coon, managing partner of Impact Management Group, a firm that works with Republican candidates, told the Political Animals Club’s monthly meeting on Wednesday that this primary race shows there is an appetite in the Republican Party for a different leadership.
U.S. Senator John Boozman won the majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff election, but Coon said the number of votes garnered by Boozman’s two main opponents shows the party is changing. In the primary, Boozman faced three opponents – former NFL player Jake Bequette, ranger owner Jan Morgan and pastor Heath Loftis.
A Talk Business & Politics poll showed it was possible Boozman could have faced a runoff against Bequette, who finished second with 20% of the vote.
John Brummett, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, credits former President Trump with helping Boozman secure the nomination.
“Boozman was isolated by Trump’s endorsement in something from the right. Basically, he was saying ‘Trump is for me,'” Brummett said.
Boozman was also endorsed by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Republican nominee for Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who previously served as Trump’s press secretary.
Coon said challengers to established Republicans experience higher levels of success each year.
“The other candidates, what was their ceiling? What is the anti-incumbent ceiling? Jan Morgan got 30% against Asa Hutchinson [in the 2018 governor’s race] and Curtis Coleman got 26% against John Boozman. The number went from Curtis’ 26 to Jan’s 30, and this time it’s close to 40,” Coon said. “There is a bloc in the Republican Party that wants to go in another direction.”
Boozman will take on Little Rock Realtor Natalie James, who won the Democratic nomination. Currently, Democrats have a narrow majority in the US Senate, often relying on Vice President Kamala Harris’s decisive vote to pass legislation.
2nd congressional district
Tuesday’s primary election was the first with the newly redrawn congressional maps, which are redrawn every 10 years based on census data.
Coon said the effects of the new maps showed in the Republican primary for the 2nd congressional district. Incumbent Rep. French Hill of Little Rock won with 59% of the vote, but Coon said the redesigned map was part of the reason Hill faced a candidate like Col. Conrad Reynolds, who stood up. presented thinking Hill should have voted to decertify President Joe Biden’s Electoral College Victory.
“They [Republicans] clearly deliberately made this district more conservative for the general election, and I think that’s going to have a trick effect, which will make the primary more conservative,” Coon said. “I think you saw the Frenchman had a right-wing opponent mainly in this race, so the district became more conservative.”
Heather Yates, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said the 2nd District would have been safe for Republicans even without the newly redesigned district. Yates explained that Hill’s fundraising ability makes it difficult to challenge him and that’s why an ideological candidate like Reynolds ran against him.
“Having that money in hand is there to scare off challengers, and so the kind of challenger we saw against French Hill is an ideological challenger,” Yates said.
According to Open Secrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics, Hill raised $2,090,526 during the 2021-22 election cycle. He has $1,587,823 on hand. The industry that has donated the most to Hill’s campaign is securities and investments. Stephens Inc, the Little Rock-based financial services company, donated $35,570 to the campaign.
Legislators in the Republican-controlled Arkansas Legislature were tasked with redrawing district maps. Currently, the state is being sued in federal court over the cards, according to the Associated Press.
In the general election, Hill will face Quintessa Hathaway, CEO of Q. Hathaway & Associates, LLC, in the general election. Hathaway was unopposed in the Democratic primary election.