I speak to a number of groups week in, week out. Often, I share my analysis and observations about the business and political landscape of Arkansas from what I hope is understood as a detached, objective perspective.
I’m speaking to several groups over the next few days, so I thought I’d put some notes on the record in advance of some of the comments I’ll be making publicly. Here are a few of my takeaways from Tuesday’s huge Republican victories in Arkansas.
• Arkansas is no longer a two-party state
Despite their best efforts, Democrats were trounced soundly in all phases of the game. It was reminiscent of the Arkansas-Alabama football game a few years ago when the Crimson Tide shellacked the Hogs 52-0. There may have been a good play or two, but Alabama won all phases of the game. Democrats can point to a few small victories in places they were expected to win, but Republicans dominated everywhere and at every level. Arkansas can be described as a one-party state: GOP.
• Republicans own everything
The GOP is now firmly in charge of everything. It is the majority party in Arkansas. They control the executive and legislative branches of government. They control all of the federal delegation. They will be making all policy decisions for Arkansas.
• Democrats won’t recover quickly
This was not a one-cycle loss for Democrats. It is the culmination of three cycles of Republican gains. Democrats had solid conservative and centrist candidates on their ticket – Mike Ross, Mark Pryor, Nate Steel, Pat Hays, James Lee Witt. But what will entice a “conservative Democrat” to choose to run under the “D” label in the future? Look for those type of candidates to align with the Republican party going forward when candidate recruitment begins.
• Republicans are poised to extend their gains
The GOP has the farm club now. They have the candidates to groom for higher office. The only Democrat with stature waiting in the wings to take over the Democratic brand (unless Mike Beebe reverses his decision to go to the golf course) is Dustin McDaniel, who still is rehabilitating his image. In the days of old, Democrats always had rising stars. That’s the Republicans’ advantage for the foreseeable future.
• The Private Option is on the ropes
There were enough GOP victories in legislative races that their supermajorities in the General Assembly will have a real struggle to find 75% margins, even for substantive changes to the Private Option. This battle will be a central focus in the 2015 legislative session, and maybe even earlier, as state lawmakers enter the budget setting cycle in pre-session business.
• The ground game did not carry Democrats to victory
The Democrats highly publicized ground game and the GOP’s quieter efforts clearly boosted early voter turnout. There were more than 120,000 additional people voting ahead of Election Day compared to 2010’s mid-term. Were these voters “cannibalized” from Election Day or were they new and dormant voters turned out by these GOTV efforts? We’ll eventually be able to assess that data. But the bottom line is that it didn’t give the Democrats any victories, and it clearly gave Republicans sweeping power.
• Trust the polls that showed the trends
Janine Parry with The Arkansas Poll deserves an apology from those who trashed her results. She’s a political scientist with the University of Arkansas who simply reported her facts. Our TB&P-Hendrix College polling, done in advance of early voting, was also roundly criticized as implausible. Look at the numbers of where Democrats sat in our poll and where they wound up on Election Day – hardly any movement. All of the momentum in the final three weeks of the election swung to the Republicans, who built on their numbers with independents and undecideds.