There were no surprises in the Republican primaries for statewide offices, with Asa Hutchinson besting opponent Curtis Coleman, and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, winning in a comfortable margin over his two opponents. In the 4th Congressional District, frontrunner Rep. Bruce Westerman defeated challenger Tommy Moll.
Hutchinson did well in the conservative regions of Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith metro area. He jumped to early and large leads in each of the four counties. For example, he had more than 85% of the vote in Sebastian County with 100% of precinct boxes reporting. Hutchinson held a more than 78% lead as of 11 p.m. in Benton County and a similar lead in Washington County. With 31 of Arkansas' 75 counties reporting, Hutchinson won 71.96% of the vote.
“I am thrilled with the response of those voters and we're excited about bringing the party together to win in November. It's been a great night,” Hutchinson said in an brief telephone interview with The City Wire.
Hutchinson said his opponent, Curtis Coleman, helped the effort to get the Republican Party moving on a united front toward the general election.
“It starts with Curtis Coleman. He gave a very gracious concession speech tonight and called me and gave me his support. … But it starts with him. Something I will be doing is reaching out and talking to (Coleman supporters) and I have no doubt we'll be unified."
Clint Reed, a partner with Little Rock-based Impact Management Group, and a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, said prior to the election the thinking was that Hutchinson needed to capture more than 60% of the primary vote.
“With these results, it looks like Asa has the full support of the Republican Party behind him, and is well position for a strong general election campaign,” Reed said.
Part of the race between Hutchinson and Ross will involve fundraising. At the end of March, Hutchinson reported $1.2 million in cash, with Ross reporting $2 million. The race is expected to be close between Hutchinson and Ross, who is considered a conservative Democrat. A Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll conducted in early April showed that likely voters surveyed gave Ross the edge with a 44% to 43% margin. However, the survey result is within the margin of error of +/-3%, meaning that the race is a statistical dead heat.
“Both candidates have strong support among their partisan bases, but while Hutchinson leads with independents that lead is not quite large enough to overcome the slight Democratic advantage in partisan identification,” noted Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College. “The fact that Ross has withstood a barrage of negative ads in recent weeks suggests that the race for Governor will likely stay close throughout the months ahead.”
“I am humbled and tremendously honored by the results of tonight’s election,” Ross said in a statement sent from his campaign. “I love my state and I am proud to call Arkansas home: always have and always will. I’m running for governor, because I have a positive vision for the future of Arkansas that is focused on improving education, including increased access to pre-k, more innovation in the classroom and a renewed focus on career and technical training. We will put college within reach for more people, create more and better-paying jobs across this state and cut taxes for working families and small businesses that are struggling to get by. I will use my experience of bringing people together to unite this state and make Arkansas an even better place to call home.”
Griffin, who decided to not run for re-election as Arkansas’ 2nd District Congressman and then made a surprise entry into the Lt. Governor’s race, survived the primary without facing a runoff. He had more than 64% of the vote in early counts, although some of those boxes were likely from central Arkansas, his home territory. Prior to the election, a Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll indicated Griffin had support of 53.5% of likely voters.
“I’m honored and humbled to have the trust and confidence of Arkansas voters and to be the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor,” Griffin noted in a statement issued after 9 p.m. “I appreciate the support and encouragement I have received from my fellow Arkansans. Voters in Arkansas are responding favorably to our common sense conservative ideas that will grow good-paying jobs through simpler, fairer tax laws and improved education to equip a highly skilled workforce. I will continue to spread this positive, pro-growth message as I campaign throughout the state.”
Griffin now faces Little Rock businessman John Burkhalter in the general election. Burkhalter and Ross have said they plan to have a close campaign relationship in an effort to win back the top two statewide spots for the Democratic Party. Ross has said that if elected governor, one of his first actions will be to create a “Governor’s Cabinet for Economic Development” – a statewide coordinated effort that would focus on job creation. Ross said he would name Burkhalter to chair the cabinet.
In the 4th Congressional District GOP primary, Rep. Bruce Westerman was ahead of Moll with a 54% to 46% lead. Westerman will face Democratic candidate James Lee Witt, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration under President Bill Clinton, in the general election.
“I would like to take this time to offer my congratulations to Bruce Westerman and his family. I look forward to an honest discussion of the problems facing the people who live in the 4th District and how we would help solve them,” Witt said in a statement. “There are important differences between us. I’ve never been a prisoner to any party or any ideology, working my whole life with Democrats and Republicans to find real solutions in the lives of the people I’m sworn to serve. I do this by working hard, being true to my faith and values, listening to people, and confronting the truth head on.”
After redistricting following the 2000 Census, much of the Fort Smith region and Madison County in Northwest Arkansas is now in the 4th District.
In the GOP primary for the 2nd Congressional District, Little Rock banker French Hill had more than 55% of the vote as of 11 p.m., with Rep. Ann Clemmer getting 22.8% and Col. Conrad Reynolds garnering 22%.
The GOP primary for Attorney General was undecided in early results, and pointed to a runoff election between David Sterling and Leslie Rutledge. Patricia Nation was also a Republican candidate in the primary.
As of 11 p.m., Rutledge had 47.66% of the vote and Sterling had 38.74% of the vote, with Nation winning 13.6%.
The GOP winner will face Democratic candidate Rep. Nate Steel and Libertarian candidate Aaron Cash, an attorney from Springdale, in the general election.
The GOP primary for Arkansas Treasurer saw Saline County Circuit Clerk Dennis Milligan with an early lead of 53.7% of the vote over challenger Rep. Duncan Baird’s 46.3%.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Hot Springs resident Karen Garcia, a Democrat and member of the Hot Springs Board of Directors, and Libertarian candidate Chris Hayes of Mabelvale in the general election.
Rep. Andrea Lea, a Republican from Russellville, won the GOP primary for Arkansas Auditor over Ken Yang, whose family owns restaurants in central Arkansas. Yang also works in governmental affairs for the Arkansas Family Council.
Lea captured 68.17% of the vote as of 11, compared to Yang’s 31.83%. With the win, Lea will face Little Rock native and Democratic candidate Regina Hampton and Libertarian Brian Leach from Fort Smith in the general election for Arkansas Auditor.