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Bill Clinton's Arkansas: A Red State He Would Not Recognize

3 years ago
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Arkansas, you run deep in me.
That's a line from the state song. But this week, red ran deep in this Blue Dog state that is just this side of wacky. No doubt, Bill Clinton has to be crying somewhere. His home state slipped completely down the rabbit hole.
On Tuesday night, Democrats were hyperventilating as the party lost several state offices along with two congressional seats, seven state senate seats and 16 state house seats. Both houses of the state legislature remain Democratic, but some Democrats are worried that a few conservative colleagues might flip Republican in exchange for committee chairs once the session starts in January. If that happens, Republicans would be the majority for the first time since the Reconstruction Era.
For decades, Republicans were tucked away in northwest Arkansas near the Oklahoma and Missouri borders. Occasionally, one of the rascals would pop up in central Arkansas like in the 1980 gubernatorial race when the late businessman Frank White challenged one-term governor Clinton and won. Mike Huckabee succeeded in the 1990s, but the state remained a conservative shade of blue for the most part. This week the map changed to neon red, flashing a warning to Democrats as they regroup for 2012.
It was no surprise that Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost to her GOP challenger, Rep. John Boozman. But the state that gave the country its first elected female senator -- Hattie Caraway -- in 1938 now has no female representation in Washington. In fact, the state only has Martha Shoffner as its treasurer with a handful of women winning legislative seats. But Lincoln's race was predictable compared to many others.
In Hot Springs, where Clinton graduated from high school, voters chose a dead Republican over a living, breathing Democrat in a state house race. Keith Crass died last week from a heart attack, but that didn't stop voters from checking the box for him. Now, a special election will be called.
In another county near Little Rock, a Republican who struggled with a hot check history and an outstanding tax lien during his campaign defeated the longtime Democratic prosecuting attorney whose office prosecuted the hot check cases.
Usually Arkansas' secretary of state races are a boring blowout for Democrats. Even when former first lady Janet Huckabee was the GOP nominee in 2002, few fireworks ignited. This year, the race pitted two candidates with popular, famous names against each other. Republican Mark Martin, a businessman, shared his name with a famous Arkansas race car driver. Democrat Pat O'Brien, a well-known and popular county clerk in Little Rock, was seldom confused with the New Orleans bar with the same name. Martin upset O'Brien in a race that lasted long after the chips had become stale at their watch parties.
Amazingly, one of the most popular governors in the country, Democrat Mike Beebe, held on to his seat by a wide margin. But in another stunner, Mark Darr, a political novice who owns a pizza parlor, upset longtime legislator Shane Broadway to become lieutenant governor. Democrats remember that is the seat from which Huckabee began his political career back in 1993 and moved up when Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned in the wake of Clinton's Whitewater scandals.
Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross will now be the sole Democrat in the state's congressional delegation. He ran against Beth Anne Rankin, a former Miss Arkansas (1994) and Huckabee staffer who channeled Sarah Palin by upsweeping her red hair, donning rimless glasses and posing with a big gun. The makeover didn't work, but Rankin will no doubt resurface again in Arkansas politics.
At least a few shining moments exist in Clintonland this week. Voters chose to allow two dry counties to sell alcohol. Depressed Dems can now find a new watering hole or two to visit. One of the counties also happens to be home to one of the biggest Ku Klux Klan organizations in America.
Then there's the on-going Clint McCance saga. Most of the state's politicians didn't say much about the now ex-school board member's gay tirade on Facebook. But leave it to a popular gay Star Trek actor, George Takei (Sulu in the original TV series), to say what politicians wouldn't. In a viral video, he takes McCance down a peg or three. Arkansas runs deep in Takei, too. During World War II, he and his family stayed in a Japanese internment camp in south Arkansas.
Something is now brewing in this state that Takei briefly called home in the 1940s. It's now a place where some conservative Democrats will use God, guns and gays to take out a liberal Democrat. That was ammunition once reserved for the right-wing contingent from northwest Arkansas. In past years, independent voters usually trend Democratic. They didn't in this election. Bill Clinton also once had an influence. Not so this year. Scholars say that the Democratic Party could come back stronger in the next few election cycles. Then again, red runs deep here now.
Filed Under: Woman Up

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