Democrats’ Fall May Be Deepest in Arkansas
That Democrats are in trouble is hardly news these days, at least in most places.
But Democrats in Arkansas, who have long dominated state and local offices despite the state’s essentially conservative electorate, have not been in this much trouble for as long as anyone can remember, at least anyone who was not around during Reconstruction.
A statewide wave of Republican victories would be shocking, but even if that does not happen — and there are signs that some races are tightening — many are surprised by the fact that there are so many tough races at all.
Arkansas has been something of a political outlier over the last few decades. It is a mostly Southern state, with a mostly conservative Southern outlook but without the Southern shade of red. The state has voted for Republican presidents, but 8 of its last 10 governors have been Democrats, and the state has sent exactly one Republican to the Senate in the past 130 years. (The current governor, Mike Beebe, is one Democratic incumbent heading into November well ahead in the polls.) Three of its four representatives in the United States House are Democrats, as are 99 of its 135 state legislators.
There are many reasons that Arkansas stayed loyal to the Democratic Party while other Southern states steadily walked, then ran, from the party.
Students of Arkansas politics point out the state’s long tradition of rural populism, the slow development of its suburbs and a run of uncommonly adept Democratic politicians, a group that includes the former governor and senator Dale Bumpers, the former governor and senator David Pryor and, of course, Bill Clinton. Arkansas also has a smaller percentage of black residents than other Southern states, where Democrats must court black voters and rural white voters with equal zeal, leading to messages that are at times so divergent as to be contradictory.
But this may become political history. The question is whether this is just an anti-establishment year or a permanent change.