In Arkansas, Democrats Win by Default

With all of the action around the country yesterday, you'd be forgiven for not paying attention to the Republican primaries for state attorney general, state auditor and state treasurer in Arkansas. You'd be forgiven because there weren't any candidates. Why do Democrats still often win in conservative places in the South and in Appalachia?
by | May 19, 2010
 

With all of the action around the country yesterday, you'd be forgiven for not paying attention to the Republican primaries for state attorney general, state auditor and state treasurer in Arkansas. You'd be forgiven because there weren't any candidates.

The Democratic candidates for those offices also didn't face primary opposition. Without Republican opposition, they're virtually assured of winning the general election.

These aren't minor offices. The list of former attorneys general for the state, for example, is a who's who of Arkansas Democratic politics: Bill Clinton, Mark Pryor, Mike Beebe and Jim Guy Tucker. Dustin McDaniel, the current attorney general, is only in his thirties. He's a leading contender to replace Beebe in 2014, when the governor would be term-limited. Why couldn't Republicans find anyone to take him on -- or to go after the candidates for auditor and treasurer?

That question actually is part of a larger question that I think is one of the most puzzling ones in American politics: Why do Democrats keep winning in conservative places?

The policies of the Democratic presidents from the 1930s to the 1960s -- Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson -- clearly defined the Democratic Party as the nation's more liberal party. Yet even today, in the fifth decade since the 1960s, Democrats continue often to win local, state and federal offices in conservative places in the South and Appalachia. In some of these places (Arkansas and West Virginia are the most obvious examples) they continue to dominate virtually every lower-level office. While there were some atypical circumstances in the race, the special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district yesterday was just one more part of this story.

Arkansas is in competition with Oklahoma as the nation's most anti-Obama state. This is the best possible time for a Republican to run in Arkansas. Yet the party doesn't even have candidates for key offices. Maybe that's a sign that the Republican Party in Arkansas is lethargic, but then why is it lethargic? Or, if it's not lethargic, why do Arkansas voters continue to favor conservative (and moderate) Democrats over conservative Republicans for most state and local offices?

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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