Tolbert: Conservative Groups Jump Into State Senate GOP Primary

by Jason Tolbert ( 4 views 

As I have noted before, the primary for the special election of State Senate District 21 (Jonesboro) is likely to be a preview of the May primaries and that could get quite interesting.

One element that will definitely pour some gas on the fire is the involvement of outside groups.  Conservative organizations certainly got heavily involved advocating against the Arkansas Private Option-Medicaid Expansion during the session and it appears they will remain involved during the primary.

If there is a ringleader against the private option, it is most definitely Americans for Prosperity – the conservative grassroots group funded largely by business interests.  Last week, The Tolbert Report learned that they have begun making phone calls into State Senate District 21 through a phone bank.  According to the group’s spokesperson, the calls are being made by volunteers following a script.  The calls are for “issues I.D.” and focus mainly on healthcare.

“While we may educate voters on a position a candidate has taken, we don’t advocate for candidates,” stated AFP-Arkansas spokesperson Elizabeth Aymond.  “Our membership is a diverse group of people. I’m sure those in the SD21 area support whomever they think best to fill the position.”

In addition, a group called “Conduit for Action” has sent a mailer into the Senate District that seems to greatly support Republican candidate John Cooper over primary opponents Dan Sullivan and Chad Neill.  The mailer – posted to Twitter by Cooper campaign consultant Clint Reed – highlights Cooper’s opposition to the private option.

“When it comes to ObamaCare, only one Republican candidate tells us where he stands,” reads the mailer stating that Cooper “opposes” it while Niell “can’t tell you” and Sullivan “doesn’t know.”

According to their website, Conduit for Action is “an organization formed on the principle that the business of America and its people is business” and is “a sister organization to Conduit for Commerce.”  According to IRS records, Conduit for Commerce is a 501(c)(3) organization formed last year and located in Fayetteville.

The mailer is difficult to read from Reed’s posting but appears to rely on early remarks from Niell and Sullivan in the very short campaign.  Late last week, the Family Council posted copies of voter guides for the special election.  In these guides,  all three candidates indicated they would have voted against the private option – Cooper, Niell, and Sullivan.  However, it appears conservative “tea party” groups have decided Cooper is their pick.

Interesting footnote on those voter guides, Democratic candidate Gene Roebuck indicated he would also have voted against the private option.  (See update.) I believe this puts him as the first Democratic candidate to publicly take this position.  Democratic candidate Ray Kidd said he would have voted for it. Steve Rockwell and Radius Baker did not complete the survey.

The primary election will take place on October 8 with a likely runoff on November 12.  The general election will be January 14.

UPDATE – Roebuck has reversed course to now say he is FOR the private option.  According to Family Council, he told them he was “a little confused.”