Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'It's a great night for Arkansas Republicans'

Posted By on Wed, Nov 7, 2012 at 12:41 AM

Arkansas Republican Party chairman Doyle Webb and Sen. John Boozman image
  • Brian Chilson
  • Arkansas Republican Party chairman Doyle Webb and Sen. John Boozman

Heard from all the Republican speakers at the GOP shindig at the Embassy Suites: “It’s a great night for Arkansas Republicans.”

Heard from several post-Ohio tally news at the Obama party at Stickyz and the Democratic Party gig at Cotham’s: “Thank God.”

President Barack Obama saved the night for Arkansas’s Democrats, who watched, without surprise but still with horror, as the Arkansas General Assembly went Republican.

Kim and Lt. Gov. Mark Darr image

The vast amounts of money from right-wing interests out of state who have Arkansas Republicans on a string was in evidence tonight at the Embassy Suites: Klieg lights in front of the hotel announced the party from a mile away, Hollywood style; inside, the huge ballroom was fitted out with huge flat screen monitors and projected images across the stage and filled to the brim with a merry crowd, folks dressed mostly in red and virtually all white. Waitresses balancing trays of multiple tumblers of bourbon made their way through the tightly packed room as Republican Party of Arkansas head Doyle Webb brought notables to the stage, like Sen. John Boozman, who recalled a time in the state legislature when his colleagues would point at him and say “there’s the Arkansas Republican caucus’ senior member and its junior member.” Asa Hutchinson, referring to the lights outside, said, “I can remember a day when you might not want to call attention” to a Republican gathering, then more “clandestine” than front and center. Kim Darr, the wife of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, and two of her friends told a reporter they were new to politics and Darr himself, joining them, said his own political interest was recent, dating to the 2008 election.


There were a few African Americans at the party; one of them, Chianti Madkins, 19, of Ashdown and a sophomore at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been interning with the party since September. The political science, business management and philosophy major — with a full ride to UALR — voted for Mitt Romney, said, because of her dislike of Obamacare, which she sees as government intrusion, and because of the initial omission of any references to God in the Democratic Party platform. Madkins was well-spoken and sharp as a tack; look for her in politics in the future.

Also there: Dr. Michael Douglas, who is a member of the Little Rock Technology Authority Board. “Everyone here is for the tech park,” he said, kidding a reporter, “as long as there’s no tax money” invested, his wife interjected.

Former State Rep. Kathy Webb and state Democratic Party chair Will Bond celebrating Obama victory image
  • Former State Rep. Kathy Webb and state Democratic Party chair Will Bond celebrating Obama victory

The contrast between the GOP celebration at the Embassy Suites and the Democratic watch party at Cotham’s couldn’t have been greater. Rather than klieg lights, a symbol of the party was projected slightly cockeyed against the side of the restaurant and indoors. The revelers, which may've numbered 100 at their peak, got in a few good whoops for key U.S. Senate victories, and Sen. Mark Pryor made a quick speech that was largely inaudible, even from a few feet away (all we caught was, "something, something, 2014," big smile; that was probably the main idea), but otherwise the party was uneventful. At 10 p.m., Democratic Party Executive Director Dawne Vandiver tried to disperse the crowd with a friendly holler of, "This has been a fun party. We're out of money. We're out of food. We're out of booze." But enough people lingered to hear the networks call the presidency for Obama. Loud cheers went up. The party thinned as insiders, scanning their smartphones, began to report races seen as pivotal not coming through — Sen. Barry Hyde falling, Rep. Linda Tyler losing her Senate race.

At Barbara Graves watch party image
  • At Barbara Graves watch party

Earlier at the former Pinky Punky dress shop in Breckenridge Village at the watch party for Barbara Graves, whose challenge to Rep. Allen Kerr was one of those Democrats thought would be crucial for their party retaining control of the state House watch, the crowd had barely made a dent in the plump shrimp and fat sandwiches before Graves conceded to Kerr and thanked her workers. “I’m very disappointed,” she said. “We know the billionaires out of state poured money in here … It doesn’t bode well for Arkansas.” Supporter Larry Choate thanked Graves for “having the courage” to run.

At the Rule campaign watch party image
  • At the Rule campaign watch party.

Second Congressional District hopeful Herb Rule, trailing Republican incumbent Rep. Tim Griffin, was upbeat early in the evening. “I feel good,” he told a reporter. Did he feel optimistic? “I feel good.”

At the Medical Marijuana watch party image

Vino’s was the most festive scene. A rock band, the Moonshine Mafia, whose vocalist said she wouldn’t have survived her two bouts with cervical cancer had it not been for medical marijuana, played to a goodly crowd who were, at the time, downing beer and pizza and feeling optimistic about Issue 5’s chances. They had good reason: The numbers in favor of the issue, while not enough for passage, were surprisingly strong — 48 percent of the vote at midnight. Gary Fults, who with his wife spearheaded the campaign, said earlier that if the issue failed, “we’ll take a week off and then we’ll come back.”

Lindsey Millar contributed reporting.

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