Bill Clinton’s Arkansas bled red election night.
The last Southern state to fall completely under Republican control, Arkansas – for the first time in its modern history – has an entire GOP congressional delegation, two Senate seats, both statehouse chambers and all state offices including governor and lieutenant governor.
This sweep happened in spite of Clinton visiting his home state several times to campaign for Democratic candidates such as former Rep. Mike Ross, who lost the governorship to Asa Hutchinson, and incumbent Senator Mark Pryor who fell to Rep. Tom Cotton.
Has Clinton lost his mojo in the state? Or did the state turning Razorback red occur because of the Arkansan’s hatred for President Obama? After all, Obama’s approval rating is a mere 29 percent in Arkansas, the lowest of all 2014 battleground states. He’s never been popular here, but before the 2014 mid-term elections, Clinton and the Democratic Party of Arkansas were able to insulate its candidates from the Obama hatred. But not this time.
Democrats now find themselves strangers in even stranger political waters at a time when Hillary Clinton is gearing up for a White House. 1992, this is not.
Back then, and in previous decades, the Democratic Party ruled this state.
Even in the 1960s when moderate Republican Winthrop Rockefeller was governor, Democrats controlled the legislature and county courthouses. In the 1970s, as Bill Clinton began his rise on the political ladder, beloved Democratic Senators David Pryor, Mark’s father, and Dale Bumpers, were governors and then represented Arkansas on Capitol Hill. They clearly paved the way for Clinton to become the state’s young governor and later, president.
In the 1990s, a Southern Baptist preacher named Mike Huckabee became the state’s governor in a fluke fallout from the Whitewater scandal that forced Democratic Governor Jim Guy Tucker to resign. Huckabee, who lost a 1992 Senate race to Bumpers, barely won the lieutenant governor’s office with only 51 percent of the vote. He ran only at the urging of Asa Hutchinson, who ironically won the governorship Tuesday night and played a key role in Clinton’s impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
However, it was at that moment when Huckabee gained power that the red tide began to gently roll into Arkansas. Huckabee set out to build the Republican Party essentially from scratch. While starry-eyed Democrats focused on Clinton’s Washington, Huckabee focused on rural Arkansas — an area that had long been a Democratic bastion. It took time, but the over the next 18 years, the party grew, thanks to Huckabee, who insiders say is planning another presidential run in 2016.
Arkansas Democrats relied too heavily on the myth of Clinton and not enough on building a farm team. It was no secret years ago that Clinton took a lot of young Democratic talent to Washington – and a lot of it stayed or traveled to greener global pastures. Those who returned didn’t seem that interested in building the party.
Like a deer hunter waiting patiently in the woods, the Republicans waited, and their patience paid off in red spades Tuesday night as the Obama hatred spread throughout all 75 counties. Now what? Democrats wonder.
Parties don’t fall apart, or grow, overnight. It will be several election cycles before Democrats gain control again in Arkansas. After Tuesday night, it’s clear that Hillary could face an uphill battle not only in Arkansas, a state where she has never been popular, but across the country as her star power did little to help Democrats. On November 5, Bill and Hillary must start rebuilding their moderate Democratic Party in red states like Arkansas if they want to regain the White House. Then again, in this era of political extremes, Republicans like Huckabee may have already written the Clintons’ swan song if Arkansas was any indication on Tuesday night.