Twenty years ago, the notion of a Republican-controlled Arkansas was unthinkable. But as the state readies for 2014’s hotly contested governor’s race, Republicans have a shot at cementing their newfound dominance in the longtime southern Democratic stronghold.
With the campaign, Democrats are being forced to confront a tough question: Can they still win in the South?
The answer will come down to whether former Rep. Mike Ross, the Democratic establishment’s gubernatorial candidate of choice, will be able to carve out his own brand as an Arkansas Democrat, or whether disaffection with the national party will be too strong for him to beat out former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, the Republican front-runner, and stem the tide of growing conservatism.
The state that twice elected Bill Clinton to the presidency now has an all-Republican House delegation, the first in well over a century, and Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is neck and neck in the polls in a marquee Senate race against Republican Rep. Tom Cotton.
January 2013 marked the first time Republicans controlled the state Legislature since 1874. If Ross loses next year, Republicans could yet again make history — they have not held both the governorship and the Legislature since that same year.
Bucking the trend is term-limited Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who enjoys one of the highest job approval ratings of Democratic governors in the country.