Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Thanks to a rotten economy and a black president, the 2010 election could be politically historic in Arkansas.
If polling and opinion from both Republican and Democrat politicos are correct, the Arkansas Republican Party is going to make a giant leap toward parity this year.
One-party dominance in Arkansas was a product of tradition, populism and charismatic politicians. The big tent Democratic Party held everything from gun-loving, abortion-hating religious conservatives to ultra-liberals. The bedrock was a monolithic black vote.
This year, fear of job loss and the sour economy -- a recent poll said 54 percent of Arkansas voters think it's going to get worse before it gets better -- drive poll after poll. At every level, opinion sampling shows a majority of voters favoring Republican candidates, thanks particularly to the flight of rural and conservative voters from the party of Barack Obama.
It's so bad that polls show Gov. Mike Beebe flirting with a 50 percent vote despite a successful first term, a huge campaign treasury and a little-known opponent recently arrived from his Florida income tax haven.
Beebe still should win, but down the ballot, a revolution is brewing. No wonder. President Obama got only 35 percent of the vote here in 2008 and his numbers have gotten worse. The special interest campaigns have persuaded Arkansas voters that more health care coverage for more people is a bad thing in one of the country's poorest states. Add to this toxic stew an instinctive mistrust among many on account of Obama's skin color, his middle name and the campaign to link his name with Islamic terrorism.
Republicans are striving to make even legislative races a national referendum. If they succeed, watch out. Once Arkansas voters break their contract with the Democratic Party, they're not likely to renew it. The most optimistic Republicans and the most pessimistic Democrats think that could mean a majority Republican legislature by 2012.
Seven Senate seats currently held by Democrats are on the November ballot. The rosiest prediction I can get from a Democrat is a win in three of those seven. Republican predictions range from 5 victories for the GOP to a sweep (which would mean 15 of 35 Senate seats in GOP hands).
Republicans claim — and I've yet to find a Democrat to hotly dispute this -- a lead in most of the contested state House of Representatives races, too. The GOP is talking about increasing its House contingent from 28 to 40.
Grim, too, is the outlook for statewide offices. The Republicans have a shot at all seven, if you believe the generic preferences of voters. This could mean, for one, that an expense-account-abusing extremist Republican fruitcake might win the office of secretary of state. Fortunately, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has no Republican opponent. With that and Beebe's likely survival, the Democratic Party will still control legislative redistricting, but they can only work at the margins of demographic shifts that will put increasing Republican might in Northwest Arkansas and suburbs while former Democratic strongholds like the Delta continue to empty of people.
Polling also shows a Republican defeat of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln and possible victories in three of the four congressional races, with only U.S. Rep. Mike Ross a slim survivor. This poor state will suffer disproportionately if this occurs, particularly if it's part of a national wave that rolls back health reform and increases the deficit through foreign adventurism and giveaways to the rich. But the voters are always right, aren't they?
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