Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who is leading in recent Iowa polls, made his second trip to Arkansas Tuesday. The Texas senator campaigned at the Apostolic Church of North Little Rock.
Political scientist Hall Bass of Ouachita Baptist University said as is the case with with Cruz’s “noteworthy strides” nationally in recent weeks he is showing strength in Arkansas.
Bass said former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s decline into the single digits in national polling leaves the Arkansas vote open to Sen. Cruz and others.
“I think the attention given to Arkansas is proportionate to the problems the Huckabee candidacy has seen in developing support. Initially there was an operating assumption that as a favorite son that Huckabee would be the default choice of the Arkansas primary voters,” said Bass about the former governor who now lives in Florida.
University of Arkansas political scientist Janine Parry said Cruz and Huckabee share much of the same base. Meaning a successful Cruz is particularly painful for Huckabee.
“That Christian evangelical thread is important here. Around 70 percent of Arkansas voters identify themselves as that so that kind of candidate will always have an appeal here,” said Parry.
Former Governor Huckabee placed a distant second in a straw poll at this Decemeb'rs winter meeting of the state Republican Party with 16 percent support. Cruz placed first with 48 percent.
In a Real Clear Politics national polling average for 12/2-12/20 Donald Trump garnered 33.6 percent support, Cruz is at 18, Rubio (12.3), Carson (10) and Huckabee is 10th with 2 percent.
The state Legislature moved the primary from May to March 1 during the last legislative session. Many lawmakers argued one of these reasons for or against the calendar move: it would increase Arkansas’s relevancy by joining a so-called SEC primary of Southern states voting closely after early primary contests, it is designed to raise additional revenue for Arkansas political parties by collecting more candidate filing fees (since less candidates will have dropped out compared to the previous May primary), it gave an advantageous hand to Huckabee with potential for an early victory, and most critically a contention the law is intended to protect incumbents by forcing an earlier candidate filing deadline and longer campaigns.