Arkansas Voters Go To The Polls, With The GOP Feeling Optimistic

Nov 4, 2014

A voter taking part in early voting last week in Little Rock.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

Arkansas Republicans are looking to complete a sweep of the state's major political posts in Tuesday's election, believing that voter dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama would undermine Democratic candidates.  

Polls will remain open until 7:30 p.m. and anyone in line by that time is to be allowed to cast a ballot.

TOP OF THE STATE TICKET

A pair of former congressman squared off in Arkansas' governor's race. For a time, they criticized each other as Washington career politicians, but later turned their attention to what they would do if elected.

Democrat Mike Ross served 12 years in the U.S. House from a congressional district in the southern part of the state. Republican Asa Hutchinson hailed from a northwestern Arkansas House district that he represented for four years, but has also served as a federal prosecutor, Homeland Security higher-up and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Throughout their campaigns, both said they would cut taxes but disagreed on how best to do it - Hutchinson wanting to trim $100 million in individual income taxes for the middle class, and Ross wanting to cut $575 million as the budget allows. Hutchinson said Ross' plan was too vague, while Ross said Hutchinson's wouldn't help enough Arkansans.

They are seeking to replace the popular Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits.

Arkansans have a knack for not voting straight tickets, which explains how in 1968, the state elected a moderate Republican governor and a liberal Democratic U.S. senator while giving its electoral votes to a segregationist running for president. 

Wallace Hattenhauer, a small business owner, said he voted for Republican Tom Cotton in the Senate race on Monday but for Ross, the Democrat, in the governor's race.

"I feel that Mike Ross would be a very similar governor to Mike Beebe," he said.

Seth Buckman, 25, voted at a west Little Rock church wearing a t-shirt from Subiaco Academy, a Catholic boarding school in western Arkansas, and said he voted for Hutchinson in part because of the candidate's views on abortion.

"I'm a religious person, Catholic obviously, and I'm pro-life, that's a big reason for me. I'm not saying that's the only reason but that's a big reason."

 US HOUSE SEATS 

 Two of Arkansas' four U.S. House seats are open this election.   Republican Rep. Tim Griffin is giving up his central Arkansas seat to run for lieutenant governor, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. Fellow Republican Tom Cotton is running for the U.S. Senate after one term in his southern Arkansas district. 

Incumbent Republican Rep. Rick Crawford faced Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson, a Democrat, in eastern Arkansas, while GOP Rep. Steve Womack ran without opposition from a major party for the northwestern Arkansas seat.

BALLOT ISSUES

 Arkansas voters were asked to settle five ballot issues, including two that survived court challenges. One would increase the state's minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017 and another would legalize liquor sales statewide. 

Both had been challenged on grounds that supporters missed a deadline to submit petitions four months before the election. The state Supreme Court said it was OK for supporters to turn in petitions on July 7, the first business day after Independence Day, which fell four months before Election Day.

Arkansas has what amounts to a checkerboard of "wet" and "dry" counties where alcohol sales are legal or illegal. Some counties are considered "damp," with sales in private clubs. An initiated act would allow alcohol to be sold in every county.

Voters also were asked to let legislators serve longer terms in exchange for tougher ethics rules. They now are restricted to three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate.

LEGISLATURE

Republicans already have wrapped up control of the state Senate in 2015, but the House is up for grabs. The GOP held control of both chambers of the Legislature after the 2012 election for the first time since Reconstruction.