Tolbert: The Action Is In The GOP Primary

by Jason Tolbert ( 6 views 

If today’s political news had a corporate sponsor, it would be Domino’s Pizza as the GOP dominoes began to fall after Roby Brock broke the news this morning on the eminent entry of Congressman Tom Cotton into the U.S. Senate race.  Cotton has a barbeque scheduled in his hometown of Dardanelle on August 6 where he is expected to announce his future plans, which are certain to be a run against Sen. Mark Pryor.

The news was expected, but it sent off a string of dominoes on many other races.  As I reported on Monday, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr just moved into the Fourth Congressional District and has already lined up commitments to prepare for a run for Congress.  State Rep. Bruce Westerman is planning to run and I have spoken to several GOP friends who plan to work on his campaign.

Darr’s news also has started the speculation on the open seat it would create. Several state representatives are all eying the race, including Reps. Charlie Collins, Andy Mayberry, and Kelly Linck on the GOP side.

If everything plays out, then Republicans will see an unprecedented number of candidates file for the May primary.

There are now at least two announced or soon-to-be-announced candidates for all of the open statewide offices.

Congressman Asa Hutchinson is all but certain to be the Republican nominee, but Curtis Coleman tells content partner The City Wire that he is not dropping out despite bleeding money and losing staff. In addition, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, and state auditor all are looking at primaries.  This means there will be at least five races on every Republican primary ballot plus a hotly-contested Congressional race in south Arkansas and likely numerous other up-and-down the ballot.

Contrast this to the Democratic primary where the party establishment is doing its best to clear the field for the anointed ones.

Chronic party troublemaker Bill Halter is out of the governor’s race clearing the field for Mike Ross’ coronation with John Burkhalter riding in the lieutenant governor’s sidecar with Pulaski County school board member Dianne Curry out of that race.

Rep. Nate Steel has no announced opponent against him for the attorney general nomination, although Will Bond – who stepped down as party chairman just today – has been rumored to be considering running for the race. And Susan Inman does not have an announced opponent for Secretary of State.

It seems for the time being that Democrats are content to let the party bosses pick their candidates and save their money for the general election.  The united effort to stop the Republican tidal wave is apparently their focus.  Even liberal bloggers and columnists are giving pass to moderate candidates that have been getting beat up in the past.

But here is question: what will an active Republican primary versus a boring Democratic primary mean for voter turnout in May?  Many voters – myself included – vote in the primary that has the most active races.  If the GOP ballot has 7 races and the Democratic ballot only has 2, guess which one these voters will pick?

This could reverse a trend that goes back for decades of most voters picking the Democratic ballot.  In 2010, there were around 470,000 total voters with around 330,000 (70%) on the Democratic side and around 140,000 (30%) on the Republican side.  In 2012, Republicans picked up a few voters with around 152,000 (48%) primary voters while Democratic voter turnout dropped considerably to 162,000 (52%.)

The trend and amount of contested races could see Republican primary voters outnumber Democratic ones for the first time in recent Arkansas history.