Did African-American Votes Make A Difference In Hutchinson's Victory?

Nov 5, 2014

Republicn Asa Hutchinson gives a victory speech after defeating Democratic rival Mike Ross in the Arkansas Governor's race Tuesday.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

Most Arkansas voters chose Republican candidates for office Tuesday, with large sections of the state going red, some for the first time. But did that trend carry with minority voters in the state? KUAR's Chris Hickey has a look at what Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson's campaign tried to do attract minorities to his party and whether or not it was effective.

African American voters in Arkansas have been a reliably Democratic voting block for several decades, but that doesn't mean there's a lack of ardent Black Republicans. At the state Republican watch party in West Little Rock, bluegrass music accompanied the high spirits of many who celebrated sweeping state-wide political victories.

“It is a new day for Arkansas politics. Thank you for making it possible,” Asa Hutchinson told his supporters gathered in the ballroom of the Embassy Suites hotel. The state's next governor thanked a few key campaigners, including attorney Leon Jones, Hutchinson's minority outreach coordinator.

Jones said he and the campaign had been going around the state since early last year, visiting with community leaders and reaching across the aisle for support. He said the message was inclusiveness.

“I'm not going to sit here and tell you there was one specific policy that we ran on or anything. But [we told minorities], access will be granted,” he said.

Although African Americans in the Republican Party hold no elected positions in state government, some of the more prominent office holders at local levels were present, like Ward 1 Little Rock City Director Erma Hendrix.

“I look at Asa really bringing the races together, whether they realize that or not. It's going to happen,” she said.

Hendrix, a former president of the state NAACP, ran as an independent (a requirement for those running for positions on the Little Rock city board). She celebrated her city board reelection victory with other Republicans at the watch party. Also at the event: former Democrat Lynette Bryant, who viewed her old party as too exclusive.

“For instance, our primary in May consisted of one name for every [state constitutional office],” she said

With one exception: As a protest, Bryant ran against Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross in that May primary. She endorsed Hutchinson after losing.

Evidence of a trend that Arkansas's Black population is voting more Republican may be tenuous, according to Janine Parry, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

“In Arkansas, as nationally, it's fairly unusual to have more than about 10 percent of African American voters report in polls or exit polls that they voted for the Republican candidate on almost any level,” she said.

Though Parry, director of the annual Arkansas Poll, notes there may be some evidence that Hutchinson's attention to minorities could have paid off this year. When he last ran for Governor in 2006,the Poll showed around 2 percent of very likely African American voters expressed support. In this year's poll, that number was around 10 percent. But, that doesn't account for a wide margin of error and still leaves nearly 90 percent of African-American voters supporting Democrats.