With a little more than a month until Election Day, the Republican primary in the Fourth Congressional District is a two-way horse race between the 2010 GOP nominee and her well-funded, first-time challenger.

The latest Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll, conducted on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, asked questions of 542 likely Republican primary voters in Arkansas’ Fourth Congressional District, which encompasses all or part of 33 counties.

Results of the survey show Beth Anne Rankin of Magnolia and Tom Cotton of Dardanelle are in a tie with 38.5% support. GOP candidate John Cowart of Genoa has 4% support and 19% are undecided.

Q: There are 3 Republican candidates for the Fourth District Congressional seat: Tom Cotton, John Cowart and Beth Anne Rankin. If the election were today, for whom would you vote?

38.5%    Tom Cotton
4%         John Cowart
38.5%    Beth Anne Rankin
19%       Don’t know

“Due to the Fourth District’s new composition and the open seat caused by Rep. Mike Ross’ retirement, this Congressional race has been hyped as one to watch in 2012. Clearly, it is living up to its hype,” said Roby Brock, executive editor of Talk Business & Politics.

The only other publicly released polling conducted in the race was a November 2011 internal poll put forth by the Rankin campaign. In that survey of 400 likely GOP voters, Rankin had 40% support to 3% for Cotton. Cowart and former candidate Marcus Richmond had 2% each, while undecided voters polled at 54%.

Rankin won the 2010 GOP primary and challenged incumbent Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott.  However, Ross won re-election to Congress handily, 58%-40%, in a year when Republicans made historic gains at all levels in Arkansas. Ross announced he would not seek another term last summer.

Cotton, who is making his first bid for elective office, has proven to be an ample fundraiser. To date, he has raised $890,000 and has been spending significant sums for weeks on television throughout the district. In the first quarter, he topped $352,000 in contributions. By contrast, Rankin raised $127,000 during the quarter and has raised more than $378,000 for the cycle.

THE HUCKABEE FACTOR

The April 17th Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll also asked GOP voters if an endorsement from former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) would influence their choice. Voters were evenly split on the question, 50-50%.

Q: If former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee endorsed a candidate for Congress, would it influence your vote?

50%   Yes
50%   No

“Half of the voters said they would not be influenced by a Huckabee endorsement and half said they would. Of the 50% who said yes, some of that influence could be positively or negatively affected by a Huckabee endorsement, depending on how voters interpreted the question,” Brock said.

Huckabee has been a stalwart supporter of Rankin’s candidacy. She served on his gubernatorial staff during most of his tenure as Arkansas Governor. He has endorsed her publicly and has lent his name and political influence to her campaign on several occasions.

Dr. Jay Barth, with the Hendrix College Department of Politics and International Relations, helped craft and analyze the latest poll.

“The battle for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Congress in Arkansas’ Fourth district is an absolute dead heat with the top two candidates -— Rankin and Cotton — significantly short of the majority necessary to avoid a runoff,” Barth said.

“There is some evidence that the endorsement by former Governor Mike Huckabee of his aide and 2010 GOP nominee Beth Anne Rankin could matter in what is shaping up to be a battle between Cotton’s sizable campaign warchest and Rankin’s deep ties in the Republican base in the district,” he added.

Barth also noted that each of the two front-runners has a minor advantage based on gender.

“Only a small gender gap shows itself in the race with Rankin leading marginally among women and Cotton ahead slightly among men,” Barth said.

On Thursday morning, Talk Business will release the remainder of the results from this poll, which included questions of likely Republican voters regarding Cong. Mike Ross’ job performance, support for the Warren Buffett Rule, the field of GOP Presidential candidates who will appear on the Arkansas ballot, and the recent decision to fire Razorback football coach Bobby Petrino.

POLL METHODOLOGY
The poll was conducted by Talk Business Research and Hendrix College on Tuesday, April 17, 2012. The poll, which has a margin of error of +/-4.2%, was completed using IVR survey technology among 542 likely Republican voters in Arkansas’ Fourth Congressional District.

Participants were selected from a database of district voters who have voted in some or all of the last 5 Republican primary elections and who affirmatively answered a question that they intended to vote in the GOP primary on May 22, 2012.

All media outlets are welcome to reprint, reproduce, or rebroadcast information from this poll with proper attribution to Talk Business and Hendrix College.

For interviews, Brock can be reached by email at roby@talkbusiness.net. Barth can be contacted at barth@hendrix.edu.