Arkansas Democrats hope a blue wave will sweep more of their candidates into office in 2018, while Republicans are confident the red tide that now covers the state will help them remain the dominant party.
Speaking to the central Arkansas Political Animals Club at lunch in Little Rock, party leaders Doyle Webb and Michael John Gray drew distinctions among their candidates and political philosophies, while fielding questions from an audience of around 100.
Webb, chairman of the Arkansas GOP, said his informal poll of whether a “blue wave” — or Democratic momentum — will reverse nearly a decade of gains for Republicans is evident in the number of filers there were for this campaign season.
“We see a good November in the offing,” Webb said, while noting that two years ago Republicans fielded about 500 candidates at the local level. This year, more than 900 GOP candidates filed for local offices, such as county judge, county clerk, and legislators. He said he expected to maintain all seven constitutional officer positions, all four Congressional seats, and “strong numbers” in the Arkansas legislature. Republicans now have supermajorities in the House and the Senate.
Gray, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas and a state representative from Augusta, said he is buoyed by the candidate filings in 2018. He said the overarching theme of being a Democrat may not be the red meat voters are hungry for, but it will persevere in the long-run.
“We represent everyone, we care about people,” he said. “We serve people first, not an ideology.”
When asked about the defections of Democrats to the Republican party, Gray said there had been Republicans that have switched to the Democrats as well.
“I don’t hold it against those that switched,” Gray said, while adding that he hopes to see improved numbers for Democrats in the final tally on election night.
THE TRUMP EFFECT
Webb defended President Donald Trump and said he doubted he would be a factor in Arkansas races this cycle.
“I don’t think it will be a negative effect. His approval rating is well over 50% unlike other states,” Webb said. “I don’t approve of the tweets, but I put value in action.”
Webb said the tax reform plan approved late last year by Republicans and Trump had put money in Arkansans’ pockets, as much as $1,000 for some.
Gray said that while $1,000 is significant, that breaks down to $20 a week. He’d rather tax money be used to support schools and highways instead of upper income earners. The Democratic Party chief said he doubted Trump would be a centerpiece of many campaigns because other issues should be the main focus.
“I don’t see our candidates campaigning on the antics of the President,” he said. “People are tired of that noise coming out of Washington.”
Other candidates in attendance at today’s Political Animals Club meeting included Supreme Court candidates David Sterling and Judge Kenneth Hixson; Secretary of State candidates Susan Inman (D) and Trevor Drown (R); and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Leticia Sanders.
Webb also announced that U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., a potential Speaker of the House candidate to replace Paul Ryan, would speak at the Craighead County GOP Lincoln Day dinner on May 19 — three days before primary Election Day.