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Sunday, December 21, 2014, 11:19 a.m.
Top Picks - Capture Arkansas

Top races take back seat in Arkansas primary

By ANDREW DeMILLO/The Associated Press

This article was published May 20, 2014 at 9:28 a.m.

Arkansas' expensive and nationally watched campaigns for governor and the U.S. Senate will take a back seat to dozens of congressional, statewide and legislative matchups on Tuesday as voters head to the polls to decide the state's various primary races.

Neither Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor nor his Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, faces a primary challenge as they gear up for one of the most high-profile Senate races in the country. Two former congressmen who are clear front-runners in their parties' bids for Arkansas governor, Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson, face lesser-known, unfunded rivals Tuesday.

Instead, the fight for two open congressional seats highlight an election featuring heated Republican battles up and down the ballot, a relatively new occurrence for a state where the election used to be decided in the Democratic primary. Democrats this year have no contested congressional primaries and the gubernatorial primary is the party's only statewide contest.

Secretary of State Mark Martin has predicted 20 percent of Arkansas' 1.6 million voters will cast a ballot in Tuesday's primary, the first statewide test of a new voter ID law. A state judge has ruled the measure unconstitutional, but has suspended his ruling and says he won't prevent the state from enforcing the law during the primary.

At Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, legal secretary Marilyn Keps, 57, said showing her ID wasn't a problem but she didn't like doing it.

"I wanted to say something's snide about it, but it's a bunch of little grandmas in there. They can't do anything about it," Keps said.

Alison Brown, 52, an operations manager for a wireless company, said she voted in a Republican ballot and said she was pleased to have so many choices.

"I like having two or three parties ... the independents. It creates a balance," Brown said.

Banking executive French Hill said he was confident he could win the Republican party's nomination outright for the central Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District, while state Rep. Ann Clemmer and retired Army Col. Conrad Reynolds hoped to force him into a runoff. The winner of the primary will face Democrat Pat Hays in the fall for the seat.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who holds the seat, announced last year that he wouldn't seek re-election and is now seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.

The fight for Cotton's seat representing the 4th Congressional district in south and west Arkansas features energy investor Tommy Moll and state Rep. Bruce Westerman, two opponents of the federal health care overhaul who sparred over who has the best credentials to fight the law. The winner will face Democrat James Lee Witt in the fall.

Other top races on the ballot include the fight for the Republican nomination for attorney general. The three candidates seeking the party's nomination — Patricia Nation, Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling — are running on similar vows to use the office to fight the federal government. The winner will face Democrat Rep. Nate Steel.

Griffin's bid for lieutenant governor pits him against Reps. Andy Mayberry and Debra Hobbs. The winner faces Democrat John Burkhalter in the fall.

Ross is running against substitute teacher Lynette Bryant in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, while Hutchinson faces Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman in the GOP primary. The two ex-congressmen have effectively been running a general election campaign since last year and have mostly ignored their primary rivals.

Tuesday's primary will test just how divisive the state's compromise Medicaid expansion is for Republicans, with several legislative primaries pitting supporters of the "private option" against opponents of the plan. The plan to use federal money to purchase private insurance for the poor was approved as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law last year.

The election will also feature a nonpartisan race for Supreme Court justice between Maumelle attorney Tim Cullen and state Appeals Judge Robin Wynne, a contest that's been overshadowed by an outside group blanketing the state with ads attacking Cullen's record.

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