Arkansas Poised to Go Republican in a Big Way

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 12:21 PM

By John Gizzi

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There were few surprises in the Arkansas primaries on Tuesday, and most of the political discussion was about how the state that gave the nation Bill Clinton is now poised to go across-the-board Republican.

"Arkansas was destined to go solidly red," Rex Nelson, who served as communications director and campaign manager for Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, told Newsmax. "Obama's presidency just sped up the process."

The Republican nomination for governor went to former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who along with Huckabee was one of the fathers of the modern GOP in the Razorback State.

With Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe stepping down, Hutchinson, a onetime Clinton impeachment manager, is now considered better than even money to win in the fall against the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Mike Ross.

In the Senate race that's sure to be watched nationwide, a just-completed NBC News/Marist Poll shows one-term Rep. Republican Tom Cotton, a conservative Republican, trailing Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor by 11 percentage points.

Nelson, however, is not discouraged by those figures.

"Remember, this is Tom Cotton's first statewide race," he told Newsmax. "He's not well known yet in all 75 counties." He added that as people meet the congressman and learn his story of enlisting in the Army after graduating from Harvard Law School, "they'll like him."

Republicans also have an all-star team of candidates for statewide offices beneath the governorship. Rep. Tim Griffin, for example, is leaving the U.S. House after two terms and was a big winner in the primary for lieutenant governor.

In Cotton's 4th District, conservative state Rep. Bruce Westerman, the GOP primary winner, is the fall favorite against former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency James Lee Witt, a close friend and political associate of Bill Clinton.

In Griffin's 2nd District, "establishment Republican" French Hill, an investment banker and former George H.W. Bush administration official, handily won the Republican primary.

Nelson expects that "tea partiers" will put aside differences with Hill and he will be favored in November over Democrat Patrick Hays, former mayor of North Little Rock.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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