The two Republicans vying for their party's nomination for attorney general were both working Tuesday to win support as voters went to the polls in an election expected to draw a low turnout.
The race between David Sterling, a private-practice attorney in North Little Rock, and Leslie Rutledge, a former attorney for Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Republican National Committee, is the only statewide contest and was the only election on the ballot at all in Pulaski County.
Both candidates said they were spending the day trying to connect with voters, hoping to win support before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. Whoever wins will face Democratic nominee state Rep. Nate Steel of Nashville and Libertarian nominee Aaron Cash.
Sterling said he was telling would-be voters of his plans to address an "overreaching federal government," to change the law to allow a new drug for use in lethal injections and help Arkansas pass a stand-your-ground law.
Speaking by phone from a campaign stop in Bryant, Sterling said he was visiting polling sites as well as supermarkets, convenience stores and coffee shops. Aside from the polling sites, many people he met weren't even aware the runoff election was Tuesday, Sterling said.
"The main thing is to try to engage the voters," he said. "I wish that voter turnout were 100 percent. That's just not what's been happening today, it's not what's been happening the last week in early voting. I think everyone should be concerned that's in this election. With voter turnout so low, anything can happen."
Rutledge narrowly missed winning outright in the May 20 primary, earning 79,347 votes, or 47.21 percent. Rutledge was second, with 65,733, or 39.11 percent. Third-place finisher Patricia Nation later endorsed Rutledge.
Rutledge, speaking shortly after the polls opened while waving at passing cars at Kavanaugh Boulevard and Cantrell Road in Little Rock, said she had a number of stops planned because awareness of the election is so low.
"We're just hoping to make sure to get people back out to vote," she said. "We want there to be a high turnout. We had a lot of momentum after May 20 and going into the runoff, so we're going have a big turnout today. We're doing everything we can to try and get out people back out to vote."
The race between Rutledge and Sterling has been marked by a number of negative ads, including one paid for by Judicial Crisis Network that likens Rutledge to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama because, it says, she doesn't support a stand-your-ground law.
"I think that Arkansas voters are smarter than that and they will see through the lies being told by this dark money, secret money groups about my record," Rutledge said Tuesday. "They know I'm a Republican and Nancy Pelosi would be just as appalled to be associated with me as I am with her because I was the lawyer for the Republican National Committee."
Rutledge said Sterling should have "denounced" the out-of-state advertising. Sterling said he is not responsible for the outside group.
"I've run a very positive camp from start to finish in the last 16 months including the last two weeks," Sterling said. "I can't control what the third parties are doing in this. … I understand some people are concerned about that, but I've run a positive campaign from start to finish."
Sterling criticized Rutledge for what he called unfair attacks on him, including suggesting he took money from the pornography industry by representing an Arkansas lingerie store in a 2009 lawsuit.
"Here I am having to explain to my 11-year-old daughter the definition of pornography a lot sooner than when I planned on having those kind of conversations," Sterling said Tuesday.
Rutledge countered that Sterling's refusal to denounce the ads against her amounted to "dishonesty."
"If you're going to lie to get into the office, what will you do when you get in?" she said.
Rutledge said despite the negativity, she believes Republicans will rally support around whoever emerges as the winner Tuesday night "because it's very important to have a conservative Republican in the attorney general's office fighting this Obama administration."
Sterling said he didn't think party unity would be a problem and that whoever wins the race between him and Rutledge will likely win the office in November. But he stopped short of saying he'd support Rutledge if she wins.
"We'll see where we are tomorrow on this," he said. "She's launched some pretty nasty attacks on me and my character. I haven't given it a thought yet. But I can't imagine supporting a Democrat."