Women won, and Republican numbers keep growing | Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner
Steve Brawner

Let’s close out the primary election results with a few observations.

Roughly 130,000 more voters voted this year than did in the last midterm elections in 2018. The total count this year was 457,194, compared to 327,629 then.

How did that happen? A lot more people voted in the Republican Party primary – 347,545 in this year’s governor’s race, compared to 206,405 in 2018. That’s a difference of more than 141,000. This year’s winner, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had more than 145,000 more votes than the 2018 winner, Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Why so many more voters? The presence of Sanders, a national celebrity and a hero to many Republicans, no doubt had something to do with it. Much has happened since 2018 to drive turnout: COVID-19; the killing of George Floyd and the racial unrest that followed; the never-ending 2020 presidential election; Russia’s attack on Ukraine; abortion and other culture war issues; inflation. The redistricting that occurs after each U.S. census mixed things up and made some races more competitive and interesting.

Still, three-fourths of Arkansas’ registered voters didn’t vote, so apparently it wasn’t that interesting.

Democrats continue to struggle. While the numbers in the Republican Party primary were way up, fewer people voted in the Democratic primary for governor, 94,326, than did in 2018, when 105,919 voted.

This happened despite Democrats having a strong candidate, Chris Jones, who has run a well-funded campaign.

Many of the so-called “yellow dog Democrats” who would vote for a yellow dog over a Republican have either died, moved out of state or started voting Republican after all. Arkansas is once again a one-party state at the state and national levels, and more and more at the local level, too.

Democrats can take some solace knowing these things go in cycles. The last one took only 150 years.

It was a big night for female candidates. In addition to Sanders, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge defeated her five male opponents in the lieutenant governor’s race without needing a runoff. Supreme Court Justice Karen Baker also won. On the Democratic side, Natalie James won in her U.S. Senate primary while Anna Beth Gorman won in her race to be the Democrats’ nominee for secretary of state.

With Sanders almost certain to be elected governor in November, the executive branch will be headed by a woman, and with Rutledge almost certain to win, it will continue to be should something happen to Sanders. Baker’s reelection means the Arkansas Supreme Court will still be 4-3 majority female.

U.S. Rep. French Hill's was the closest congressional race, if you consider a 17-point difference “close.” He defeated Conrad Reynolds, 58.6% to 41.4%.

Hill has the toughest situation of any of the state’s four U.S. House members. He’s an old-school Republican in an era dominated by former President Trump, and like the others he has to worry about drawing a primary opponent. But his district is also the most purple-ish, so Democrats can make the November elections somewhat competitive if they have a strong candidate. This year’s nominee, Dr. Quintessa Hathaway, is not as well-known or well-funded as some of his past opponents, so this year should be easier for him.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman won again. He always does.

We might as well stop calling it “early voting” and just call it “voting.” As reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 208,528 Arkansans, or 45.6%, voted “early.” In the midterm election in 2018, 112,084 voted early, which was roughly a third of a lot less voters.

Clearly, Arkansans’ voting habits are changing. Instead of Election Day being when most people vote, it’s becoming more of a tradition for some voters or a deadline for procrastinators. Candidates must now plan to get their messages out 15 days before Election Day knowing that’s when many people start voting.

None of the multi-candidate statewide elections resulted in a runoff except the race for Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Position 2, where Justice Robin Wynne will face Judge Chris Carnahan. That election won’t happen until November.

There are a handful of interesting Republican runoffs June 21 for state legislative races. Those include Senate District 22, where Sen. James Sturch, R-Batesville, faces Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn. In Senate District 28, Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, faces former Rep. Bryan King.

Those races will depend on turnout. Early voting – excuse me, voting – begins June 14.

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and syndicated columnist. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Women won, and Republican numbers keep growing | Steve Brawner