The surprise of the night was the strong showing of Prosecutor Scott Ellington in the First District Congressional Democratic primary.
Ellington held above 50% for most of the evening leading his two rivals Rep. Clark Hall and Gary Latanich. Hall, who led the primary race in fundraising, trailed in second place nearly 10 points behind Ellington.
The big question late in the evening was whether Ellington would win outright or if Hall could force the runoff on June 12.
Unofficially, Ellington finished with 49.5% of the primary vote to Hall's 38.5%. Latanich earned 12% support. Ellington and Hall will face each other in a June 12 runoff assuming that overseas absentee ballots or any county recounts won't alter the race's outcome.
A Talk Business-Hendrix College poll conducted in late April showed Ellington with a slight lead over Hall, but most primary voters — nearly 71% — were undecided at the time.
In GOP circles, Tom Cotton pulled comfortably ahead of Beth Anne Rankin in the Fourth District primary. Early on, the race was tight, but as more counties reported, Cotton opened up a twenty-point lead.
Eventually, Cotton clobbered Rankin 57-37% with the third candidate in the GOP field, John Cowart, finishing around 6%.
Cotton, who led in a Talk Business-Hendrix College poll by 18% j
ust a little more than a week ago, held an advantageous fundraising lead over Rankin throughout the campaign. That money advantage paid big dividends for the political newcomer, Cotton, as a combination of direct mail, television and radio advertising, and phone banking allowed him to inundate district voters with his war record and conservative political credentials.
Rankin, the 2010 GOP Congressional nominee, was supported by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but as the night's returns poured in, Cotton's lead stretched.
Who will Cotton face in November? That remains to be seen.
In the Fourth District Democratic primary, State Senator Gene Jeffress (D-Louann), led the ticket over Q. Byrum Hurst and D.C. Morrison.
Jeffress, who garnered just under 40% of the vote, spent little money in his campaign. However, he did benefit from higher voter turnout in south central and southeast Arkansas Democratic primaries, where Jeffress and his brother have held legislative seats for nearly a decade.
Hurst, a Hot Springs attorney, was the front-runner in fundraising, but finished in second place with roughly 35.5% of the vote. Hurst and Jeffress will face each other in a June 12 runoff.
Morrison, a Little Rock native who also ran as a spoiler in the 2010 U.S. Senate Democratic primary, scored 24.5% of the vote.
A Talk Business-Hendrix College poll released a little more than a week ago showed Hurst and Jeffress neck-in-neck with a large undecided block of voters.
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