Rob Moritz at Stephens Media takes a look at the growth of the Arkansas Republican Party, from county level up. Arkansas GOP Chair Doyle Webb credits his leadership, naturally, in a plan for party development funded by $1.5 million from the national party.
That’s a lot of money. And the Republican organizing effort shows.
Political scientist Jay Barth doesn’t dispute grassroots improvement. But he notes “special circumstances” in 2010 that gave the party an uncommon lift. That special circumstance was a Democratic ticket led by a black man with a funny name and unusual provenance who also happened to beat something of a native daughter in the Democratic primary.
Barack Obama’s presence remains a primary motivating force for the Arkansas Republican Party. His name is an epithet in their campaign commercials and mailers and, particularly, in the “independent” political efforts of the Koch brothers and other pro-Republican groups. Photos of black men bearing health care programs are not chosen by accident.
Overt racism is even a central part of the beliefs of several Republican legislative candidates. It is so important to them and their base that the Republican Party officialdom has neither demanded return of campaign money nor withdrawn endorsements of slavery defenders like Loy Mauch and Jon Hubbard or a total nutcake like Charlie Fuqua. County Republican officials in each man’s district are on record — after worldwide criticism of their writings — solidly in support of these candidates.
The 2010 election of three unknown Republicans to statewide office (lieutenant governor, secretary of state and land commissioner) over three well-known, financed and organized Democratic candidates — by virtually identical vote outcomes — clearly signaled a reflexive Republican vote against the Democrat (Obama). The problem for Democrats is that the 2010 election may well have been a sea change, an overthrow of historic reflexive Democratic voter instincts for all time.
This election will continue to be a referendum on the black president in Arkansas, but success at county and legislative races will fairly be viewed as the Alabamazation of Arkansas. Even Hillary Clinton at the top of a 2016 ticket isn’t likely to turn that around. Arkansas will no longer be an outlier to the Solid South, now the fortress of the Republican Party, with all the ancillary impact on public policy that means (generally damaging to the personal interest of the very people providing the voting muscle).