The Democratic Party of Arkansas is getting a new executive director, hailing from another rural state offering a tough electoral landscape.
The state party announced Monday that Ted Dick, who once held the position in Montana’s Democratic Party, will step into the role next week.
Democrats in Montana, like in Arkansas, had some significant losses in the 2014 midterm elections. Republicans in Big Sky Country picked up the state’s sole U.S. House seat and a U.S. Senate seat in 2014.
But that was after Dick’s time at the helm of the party (December 2010-2012) and after a relatively strong showing by Democrats in the previous election cycle. In 2012, the last elections with Dick serving as executive director, Montana Democrats won a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office. Though still in the minority in the 61-39 Republican controlled state House, Democrats picked up seven seats.
Long-time Montana political reporter Chuck Johnson says Dick succeeded in part by crafting a state-level identity for Democrats – apart from a more liberal national brand.
“Local Democrats who win often aren’t in tune totally with the national Democratic Party. We often don’t vote for the Democratic presidential candidate but we can elect senators and governors,” he said. “I think Ted is probably one who would be in that category, who could help candidates win in a state that may not be voting nationally for a Democrat.”
Johnson covered Montana politics for 43 years for some of Montana’s largest newspapers before retiring following a bureau closing this year. His one time newspaper colleague Mike Dennison, now with MTN Televeision in Montana, agrees and notes rural voters have been increasingly hard to get for Democrats.
“Montana is of course a rural state so Democrats in Montana, they’re against gun control and things like that. Not unlike some places in the South where Democrats aren’t running to align themselves with President Obama,” said Dennison.
“The rural areas, they used to be able to win a few here and there as far as legislative seats, but that’s a really rare occurrence now. The only rural districts they win anymore are Indian reservations.” He said turnout in urban areas has helped Democrats carry some contests, “the large majority in some of the cities are able to help win statewide offices.”
Arkansas Democrats recently lost two state representatives from rural areas via party conversion. Wes Wagner of northeast Arkansas did not cite a specific reason for switching to the GOP, while Mike Holcomb of Jefferson County pointed to the state party’s support of Planned Parenthood.
In 2014 Arkansas Democrats suffered major losses with Republicans sweeping into every single constitutional office and expanding majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. Though urban areas remain largely represented by Democrats.
Dick has also worked for the Service Employees International Union and the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee. He replaces Candace Martin.