In Jonesboro Special Senate Election, It’s All About The Base

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 118 views 

Special elections are about turning out base voters, primarily partisan political bases.

In the special election to replace former Democratic Sen. Paul Bookout, who left amidst an ethics scandal last year, the two party candidates vying for the Senate District 21 Jonesboro seat are pushing Republicans and Democrats to the polls ahead of tomorrow’s final vote.

For Republicans, John Cooper, a Tea Party conservative who has been active in local politics, is their nominee. He is a retired AT&T worker, a veteran, and an ordained Baptist minister, according to his web site. He describes himself as “unwaveringly conservative.”

Cooper has laid out his opposition to the private option, abortion, and gun control laws. He wants tax and regulation reform to help increase jobs and grow the economy. He is also an advocate for establishing streaming video of Senate committee hearings and thinks that Ethics Commission hearings should also be open to the public.

Democrats nominated Steve Rockwell, a northeast Arkansas businessman whose family has a large publishing business. Rockwell’s web site touts his business credentials and his advocacy for growing jobs, keeping taxes low, improving education and making government more transparent.

“We can’t be bogged down by politics, blame or concern for who gets the credit,” he says in outlining his political philosophy.

A defining issue in the campaign has been the private option – the bipartisan-constructed use of state Medicaid dollars for private health insurance passed by the GOP-controlled Arkansas Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe last session.

Democrats voted collectively to support the measure, but it divided many Republicans in both chambers, and the private option only passed with two votes to spare in the House and Senate. With some Republicans now wavering due to growing concerns with overall health care reform, control of the Senate District 21 seat could prove pivotal to the private option’s fate when state lawmakers consider future funding for it in February’s fiscal legislative session.

Rockwell has aired two TV ads highlighting his support for – and Cooper’s opposition to – the private option. One ad also includes a claim that Cooper advocates cuts to Arkansas State University – a position Cooper’s camp denies.

In the newest TV ad, which you can view below, a person with Parkinson’s disease says she can only get health insurance through the private option and that its abolishment would deny her coverage.

The ad also spotlights a doctor who claims the private option will pump $8 million into the northeast Arkansas economy to local hospitals. The ad suggests that Cooper’s opposition to the private option would eliminate expanded health care funding to the region.

“Anyone who thinks John Cooper doesn’t support ASU and local hospitals is out of touch with reality,” says Chase Duggar, consultant to the Cooper campaign. “John is the mainstream candidate. That’s why he is supported by local doctors, local law enforcement, and many students at ASU.”

“I’m spending time in Jonesboro today [Jan. 13] and have heard many complaints from voters about Rockwell’s negative campaign and false claims. Voters realize Rockwell is trying to distract from his liberal Obama supporting views. Despite his best attempts, we still feel good about our chances tomorrow,” Duggar added.

Cooper has not run TV ads, but he has aired radio spots – all positive and biography-oriented, according to locals.

However, the Arkansas GOP has paid for radio ads critical of Rockwell for his position on health care reform, same-sex marriage and abortion – another clue that the election is about turning out base party supporters.

“Special elections are all about turnout,” said Robert McLarty, consultant for Rockwell for Senate. “Appealing to your core supporters with a specific message that energizes folks is critical.”

This weekend, canvassers for Rockwell and Cooper blanketed the area in an effort to make voters aware of Tuesday’s special election and to convince voters of the importance of who wins the seat.

At the end of Monday, roughly 3,550 votes had been cast early.  Early voting in the special general election has already totaled 67% of the overall run-off numbers.

In the special run-off election in November, Republicans cast 2,905 votes and Democrats cast 2,406.

An Arkansas State Senate district consists of 83,000 registered voters.