Arkansas GOP Wins, But Oddly, Kinda Loses Too

by Michael Cook ( 5 views 

For the first time since Reconstruction, the Republic Party has taken control of one legislative chamber, the Senate,  but as of this moment the control of the House is still in question.

And while a win is still a win, oddly enough the state GOP still ended up losing in the big picture.

Hear me out before you start howling in protest.

A great debate among political observers was whether or not 2012 would be a paradigm shift election or a pendulum swing election?  A paradigm shift result would mean Republicans become the dominant party for the foreseeable future, and a pendulum swing result would be where Republicans win, but you could see a way for Democrats to compete and win future elections.

Looking at the initial big picture, 2012 was a pendulum swing election in Arkansas.

First, the somber news for Arkansas Democrats is at the legislative level.  The Republic Party now holds a 21-13 majority in the State Senate, with one race, Eddie Cheatham vs. Mike Akin, still too close to call.  Two Democratic Senators lost their re-election bids, Steve Harrelson and Mike Fletcher.

However, Republicans publicly claimed they’d end up with 24-25 Senate seats, obviously falling short of their predictions.  Of course, they still control the Senate so one could very reasonably argue: who cares about predictions versus actual results?

Where Republicans lost in the big picture was over the fight for the State House.  For weeks, Republicans publicly predicted they would win a total of 65-70 House seats.  Arkansas Republican polling firms claimed they polled all the House races and their numbers showed a landslide, a wipeout for Democrats. The next time an Arkansas Republican says they’re leading in the polls, take their comments with two heaping tablespoons of salt.

With an unpopular Barack Obama on the ballot, Republicans predicted they would win just about every competitive House race.  And frankly if there was a year that Republicans could have decimated legislative Democrats in Arkansas, this was it.  Shadowy, conservative outside groups spent millions in an attempt to buy the election for Arkansas Republicans. It was a perfect storm for Republicans.

Then a funny thing happened, Arkansans made up their own minds on various House races and Republicans fell shockingly short on their public boasts.

As of this moment, Republicans have a hold on 50 House seats and Democrats hold 49 seats, with one race too close to call. The race between L.J. Bryant versus John Hutchison is likely go to a recount since Republican Hutchison leads by roughly 45 votes, but there are 200 provisional ballots outstanding, so it’s still anyone’s ball game.

One Democratic incumbent, Leslee Milam Post, lost re-election, but frankly and respectfully, she was never going to win so her defeat was no surprise.  However, Arkansas Democrats were able to defeat 3 Republican incumbents, Lori Benedict, Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch. The two men are a part of The Three Stooges whose extremist writings made national headlines.

For Democrats to knock off three Republican incumbents in an anti-Obama year is another sign of a pendulum election.

One frustrating House loss was Democrat Fred Harris of Arkadelphia who insiders had long predicted would easily won, but he ended up losing 53% to 47%.  I don’t know how Harris snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but if he had won as expected. we’d likely be having a different discussion on the make-up of the House.

Let’s say Republicans end up winning the Bryant versus Hutchison recount, Republicans would only hold a 51-seat majority.  Again, I am mindful that a majority is still a majority and it would likely mean Terry Rice and not Darrin Williams is the next Speaker of the House. That would be the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans controlled both legislative chambers.

My point is about the state of Arkansas politics in the long-run and how 2012 is a pendulum swing election.

If Republicans couldn’t completely crush legislative Arkansas Democrats in 2012 with Barack Obama only getting 37% of the vote and megabucks spent on their behalf by outside groups, then that is a clear sign this was a pendulum swing election and not a paradigm shift election.

In 2014 Democrats need only net 2 seats to take back the House, a very achievable goal. The Senate will take a bit longer to take back, but being 8-9 seats down is not the 15-seat deficit many had predicted.  Republican State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson better pray that he draws a 4-year and not a 2-year term.

Republicans do control all 4 Congressional seats, the first time this has happened since Reconstruction.  However, it’s highly likely that either, or both, Tim Griffin or Tom Cotton run for higher office in 2014 leaving those seats open giving Democrats a chance to retake those seats. One example of a potential take back is in the 2nd Congressional district.  Yesterday, Tim Griffin easily defeated Herb Rule; however, Rule beat Griffin by roughly 10,000 votes in Pulaski County.

If Democrats nominate a 2nd District candidate in 2014 who can recreate the Vic Snyder strategy – win Pulaski County big and hold the line in the other counties – then they can take that seat back.

I headed into election night with a sense of dread and fearful for Arkansas Democrats long-term prospects.  And while Republicans did a have big night, it’s clear that Arkansas is now a two-party state that can go either way in future elections, which is good news for Arkansas Democrats.

Make no mistake about it though, the Republic Party did have some big victories last night.  However, since this was a pendulum swing election, Arkansas Democrats have an opportunity to erase Republican gains in 2-4 years.  Arkansas Democrats have been here before to a certain extent.  In 1997, Arkansas Republicans held the Governor’s Office, the Lt. Governor’s Office, 2 of 4 Congressional seats and one U.S. Senate seat.  Slowly, but surely, Arkansas Democrats won those seats back.  Arkansas Democrats can do it again.

Arkansas Democrats – take a short break, spend some time with family and friends neglected during the campaign season, and then begin planning for 2014.