Political strategist sees shift in Republican party in post-election analysis

A political strategist said he believes the Tuesday primary elections showed a desire for change by Arkansas voters.

Robert Coon, managing partner at Impact Management Group, a firm that works with Republican candidates, said at the monthly Political Animals Club meeting Wednesday this primary race shows there is an appetite in the Republican party for different leadership.

U.S Sen. John Boozman captured the majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff election, but Coon said the amount of votes Boozman’s two main challengers garnered shows the party is shifting. In the primary, Boozman faced three opponents— former NFL player Jake Bequette, gun ranger owner Jan Morgan and pastor Heath Loftis.

Polling from Talk Business & Politics showed there was a possibility Boozman could have faced a runoff election against Bequette, who finished second with 20% of the votes.

John Brummett, columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, credits former President Trump for helping Boozman secure the nomination.

“Boozman was insulated by the endorsement from Trump in something from the right. Basically he was saying ‘Trump is for me,'” Brummett said.

Boozman was also endorsed by U.S Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and Republican nominee for Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders who previously served as press secretary for Trump.

Coon said challengers of established Republicans are seeing higher levels of success each year.

“The other candidates, what was their ceiling? What is the anti-incumbent ceiling? Jan Morgan got 30% against Asa Hutchinson [in the 2018 governor’s race] and Curtis Coleman got 26% against John Boozman. The number has grown from Curtis’ 26 to Jan’s 30, and this time it’s close to 40,” Coon said. “There is a block in the Republican party that wants to go a different direction.”

Boozman will face Little Rock Realtor Natalie James, who won the Democratic nomination. Currently, the Democrats have a slim majority in the U.S Senate, often relying on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote to pass legislation.

2nd Congressional District

Tuesday’s primary elections were the first with the new redrawn Congressional maps, which are redrawn every 10 years based on Census data.

Coon said the effects of the new maps showed in the Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District. Incumbent Rep. French Hill of Little Rock prevailed with 59% of the vote, but Coon said the redrawn map is part of the reason why Hill faced a candidate like Col. Conrad Reynolds, who ran on the belief that Hill should have voted to decertify President Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

“They [Republicans] clearly purposely made that district more conservative for the general election, and I think that is going to have a trick-down effect, which will make the primary more conservative,” Coon said. “I think you saw that French had an opponent from the right mainly in this race, therefore the district has gotten more conservative.”

Heather Yates, political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said the 2nd District would have been safe for Republicans even without the newly redrawn district. Yates explained Hill’s fundraising ability makes it difficult to challenge him and that is why an ideological candidate like Reynolds ran against him.

“Having that cash on hand is there to scare off challengers, and so the kind of challenger we saw against French Hill is an ideological challenger,” Yates said.

According to Open Secrets, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics, Hill has raised $2,090,526, during the 2021-2022 election cycle. He has $1,587,823 on hand. The industry that has donated the most to Hill’s campaign is securities and investment. Stephens Inc, the Little Rock-based financial services firm, donated $35,570 to the campaign.

Lawmakers in the Arkansas Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, were responsible for redrawing the district maps. Currently, the state is being sued in federal court for the maps, according to the Associated Press.

In the general election, Hill will face Quintessa Hathaway, CEO of Q. Hathaway & Associates, LLC, in the general election. Hathaway was unopposed in the Democratic primary election.