The story of the night was Courtney Goodson, personally disapproved of by so many, rudely rebuffed by voters two years ago, yet now the embattled champion slayer of dark money and our best choice for the Arkansas Supreme Court in November.
She sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads from a conservative national group appearing mainly interested in lifting one of her opponents, the more partisan right-wing David Sterling, whom she’ll now face in a runoff in November, and, we must hope, defeat.
She went into three court jurisdictions to seek to get the ads pulled from television stations, winning one, losing another and having a third rained out. In one of the courts she got tangled up with a conflict-burdened judge whose wife worked with Goodson’s husband, a wheeler-dealer class-action lawyer and political operator.
Yet on Tuesday she went out and appeared to lead the ticket in the three-candidate field, fending off Sterling and casting out of the race probably the establishment choice and the candidate she had to beat — Kenneth Hixson, the choice of newspaper endorsers, including this one, and a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Hixson got hit hard, too, by Sterling’s apparent backers with dark-money smears. But he didn’t fight in court as Goodson did.
The voters were in a mood to tell the smear artisans a thing or two, and Goodson emerged as the vehicle for the backlash.
Her incumbency and name identification must have been the rest of the difference.
She was edging Hixson in his own Northwest Arkansas appeals court district. Sterling was edging him in part of it.
Here’s one good and exciting way to look at the outcome: The two victims of dark-money smears, Goodson and Hixson, combined to get nearly two-thirds of the votes. The beneficiary, Sterling, got enough to make the runoff, but only a little more than a third.
We may not need after all to ban dark money in judicial races or require disclosure of its individual donors. We may need only to trust that the voters are starting to get it, thanks largely to Goodson.
Her comeback impresses after the way she got routed for chief justice two years ago by Dan Kemp. That was partly because of dark-money smears and partly because of her own glaring ethical conflicts, which still exist. The same thing might have happened Tuesday in a two-person race against either of the others. And it could happen in November. Let’s hope not.
It’s all about the matchup, and this one is to her advantage.
Her problem has never been her competence as an appellate judge.
The other big story of the evening was Clarke Tucker, who won without a runoff the four-person race for the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 2nd District to take on French Hill.
It looked as if he’d settle in between 55 and 57 percent — impressive, yes, and clearly a shot of momentum for the general election. But the other three candidates never quite got off the ground. They were banking on grass-roots passion that never ignited.
Tucker swamped them by more money, more establishment backing, a better campaign, greater skills, a personal story as a cancer survivor, a stellar deserved reputation in the community and Legislature and a health-care television commercial that permeated the public consciousness.
The general election is an entirely new game, one in which Tucker is the underdog. But Hill clearly knows he has now been vigorously engaged.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson pulverized the Gun Goddess, Jan Morgan, by 70-30. In the end, for all her bluster and all my fretting that the Trumpian Arkansas Republican culture had run so amok that the governor’s pragmatism imperiled him, he beat her by close to the same margin he dispatched his ultra-right primary opponent from four years ago, Curtis Coleman.
What we have, it seems, is a seriously conservative state, but not a crazed conservative one, that can still rise in populist resentment against big money and outsiders. And that still has one congressional district where a Republican must work a bit.
Year of the woman? Yeah, you could say that. Two women — Tippi McCullough in Little Rock and Nicole Clowney in Fayetteville — won Democratic state representative primaries over strong male opponents. And Goodson, the dark money-slayer. Don’t forget her.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.