The candidate filing period for the 2016 elections got underway Monday at the state Captiol, with presidential races dominating attention.
The first person in line was former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is making his second bid for president. He was greeted like an old friend by many in the Rotunda, before signing the necessary paperwork alongside his wife Janet.
Afterward he told reporters that while other Republicans have been leading in national polls, that’s no indication of how things will be when the first caucuses are held in Iowa in February.
"Our strategy is the same as it always was. We’re going to outwork everybody, we’re going to organize in the early states. We’ll win the early states because that’s how you ultimately win the nomination," Huckabee said. "I might take a little issue (with the suggestion) that we’ve been outshadowed by all the other candidates, I’m not sure that I would characterize it that way. We’re quite ahead of where we were eight years ago at this point.”
It was in 2008 that Huckabee won in Iowa, though ultimately lost the primary fight to Sen. John McCain.
Huckabee called his home state an important part of his campaign strategy after Arkansas moved its primary from May to March 1, joining several other southern states that have created a regional nominating contest dubbed the SEC primary.
Paperwork was also completed and fees paid for other presidential candidates to run in Arkansas. Heidi Cruz, the wife of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, filed his paperwork. Representatives for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also filed Monday.
Republican state Sen. Bart Hester is Rubio’s state chairman and says he’s long been confident in the candidate, who got good reviews from some pundits for last week's Republican debate performance.
"Just watching Senator Rubio over the years speak and (to) understand how good of a communicator he was, and then you start listening to the message that he presents. There’s just no doubt that he’s going to resonate with the voters and we look forward to how well he does in Arkansas," Hester said.
On the Democratic side, many supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders were in the Rotunda. Some said they had never been involved in a political campaign until being inspired by Sanders. Joyce Boswell, a volunteer from Bryant, was allowed to file his paperwork.
"He speaks for what I believe in and I think he's the best candidate right now and I just wanted to show my support by being here for him," Boswell said.
Paperwork is also expected to be filed in the coming days for Hillary Clinton.
In the race for the U.S. Senate, former U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge filed to run for the Democratic nomination. He hopes to unseat Republican incumbent John Boozman, suggesting voters are tired of the current political establishment.
"Anybody that has been in Washington for certainly over a decade, 14 years, is responsible for what has occurred on their watch, and it’s time for a change in this state. It’s time for new leadership to pay attention to things that really matter in this state and that’s what our campaign is really all about," Eldridge said.
Boozman was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2000 and was then elected to the Senate in 2010.
A spokeswoman says Boozman will file at the Capitol next Monday at 8 a.m.
While the bigger races got the most attention, candidates also filed for a broad array of other positions in the state, including for the Arkansas House of Representatives and Senate.
Doyle Webb, the chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, said he expects the party to make gains in the coming year and expand its majority in the legislature. He said that would benefit the party for votes that require a two-thirds majority to pass.
"Our view is that we want to educate Arkansans that it is the Republican Party that now represents their views and values, that we should increase our numbers in the House and in the Senate," Webb said.
Vincent Insalaco, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said he's proud of the candidates that have been recruited to run for his party, but says they're challenged by ties to national politics.
"Today they have to run in an environment of (issues like) national healthcare, of whether we're going to build a wall in Mexico and have the Mexicans pay for it. It's a completely different environment, and running for a local office has been nationalized," Insalaco said.
In the past he says issues like local schools and road projects dominated local political races.