As Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders claimed victories in the New Hampshire presidential primary Tuesday, Arkansans now have a renewed sense of the top candidates as the state eyes its own primary 3 weeks away.
Arkansas holds its primary March 1st. To understand how the state's electorate may be influenced by the New Hampshire results, KUAR reached out to University of Arkansas at Little Rock political scientist Greg Shufeldt for an interpretation.
The following is an interview with Shufeldt. It was edited for brevity and clarity.
Given the results of the New Hampshire presidential primary, what are the main takeaways for Arkansas?
“That there is going to still be a very contested Republican field when Arkansas voters go to the polls. Same on the Democratic side, the fact that Senator Sanders had a pretty decisive victory, Arkansas voters are going to have a real contested race that they will be able to weigh in on.”
What impact might Governor John Kasich’s second place finish have on the potential outcome of the Arkansas primary?
“I think if anything, Governor Kasich’s strong performance comes at the expense of Senator Rubio. After the positive media coverage of his third place finish in Iowa, if Senator Rubio would have done a little better in New Hampshire, I think we could have seen Senator Rubio do better in a state like Arkansas. But now it’s more of an open field.”
Marco Rubio has rounded up endorsements from many elected office-holders in Arkansas, including two congressmen and several in the State Legislature. The Senator benefited from a strong third place finish in Iowa and from former Governor Mike Huckabee suspending his campaign. Where does his state support sit now that he had an arguably poor showing in New Hampshire?
“I think if Senator Rubio would have had another strong night [in New Hampshire], we would have seen more Republicans—including Arkansas Republicans—make a move to supporting him as sort of the anti-Trump or anti-Cruz candidate. But because of his showing in New Hampshire, we might see our own elected officials—like our own Governor Asa Hutchinson—hold off a little bit from making an endorsement. And as long as the Republican party—or the elites within the Republican party—refrain from making endorsements between ‘establishment candidates’ like Kasich, Bush, Rubio or Christie, that’s better news for candidates like Trump and Cruz."
How might support for Senator Sanders change in Arkansas now that he has won New Hampshire? Does he have a chance to overcome Hillary Clinton, who remains more popular in a recent poll of Arkansas’s Democratic voters?
"Senator Sanders is going to do well in states that have demographics that are similar to New Hampshire, that have high levels of college-educated citizens, that have large numbers of white Democratic primary voters, that have large numbers of white liberal voters and younger primary voters. That’s not necessarily Arkansas’s electoral population. New Hampshire exit polls are showing…Secretary Clinton is doing best with [voters that] are closer to the demographics of a state like Arkansas."
If some of the more “establishment” Republican candidates with waning popularity (Bush, Kasich, Christie, etc.) drop out of the race, who will their Arkansas supporters gravitate towards?
“As long as the Republican field stays a deep bench of former Senators and Governors, that’s betters news for Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. If we see some sort of coordination, between [the South Carolina and Nevada primaries], before we get to [Arkansas’s primary] and other southern states and candidates like Christie or Bush or Kasich or Rubio decide to drop out between now and then, and we see there’s more of a consolidation of the establishment vote, then one of those candidates might be poised to do well in a state like Arkansas. But if Rubio, Bush and Kasich are still in the race…it’s hard to see a path where the more conservative candidates [i.e Trump and Cruz] don’t win the party’s nomination here in the state.”