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Arkansas Democrats stirred by fears of Trump victory

by Frank E. Lockwood | July 26, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA -- As they prepare to make Hillary Clinton their party's presidential nominee, Arkansas Democrats are viewing this fall's election with determination, but also apprehension, saying they fear for their country if Republican Donald Trump wins in November.

"It scares me to death," said Lisa Whitaker, a pharmacist and a Clinton delegate from Fayetteville. "I shudder to think. I really do."

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Vincent Insalaco said the New York businessman's message is ominous.

"I've been working in politics since 1972 in Arkansas. I went through the '60s, and I never in this entire time have been this alarmed at the sheer negativity, the scary rhetoric, the fearmongering that [Trump's] doing," he said.

Marci Riggs, a party activist from Little Rock, said Trump's message won't bring Americans together.

"He's very much a divider. I don't think he knows what he's doing. In fact, I know he doesn't know what he's doing," she said. "I really would be terrified of what he would do on a world stage to destroy our reputation as the United States and to destroy our economy, quite frankly."

Clinton supporters say they're optimistic about her chances and confident in her abilities.

But preventing a Trump presidency is also a powerful motivator.

"I don't want him with his finger on that button, the nuclear button. I don't want that," said former Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford.

There hasn't been much polling in Arkansas, so it's hard to say how widespread those views are.

Hendrix College political science professor Jay Barth, who's in Philadelphia for the convention, said the Natural State is fertile soil for Trump's message.

"I think it's probably fairly clear how it's going to play in Arkansas based on the last couple of cycles," he said, noting the lopsided Democratic losses in 2008 and 2012.

"Trump is a candidate that I think resonates pretty deeply with a lot of the voters who have fled the Democratic Party in recent years ... white rural voters in particular," he said. Those are voters that Trump "connects with very well."

In addition to Republicans, Trump is predicting he'll gain votes from disaffected supporters of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate who carried 22 states earlier this year.

But Sanders delegate Sarah Scanlon of Little Rock said Trump doesn't have what it takes to be commander in chief.

"I think Donald Trump makes a great showman. He's the Barnum and Bailey of our generation. He really is,"she said. "[But] he hasn't had one substantive thing to say outside of 'We're going to build a wall and they're going to pay for it,' and 'I'm really, really good at negotiating.'"

Jason Thompson, a Sanders delegate from Russellville, isn't swayed either.

"I think he's a pretty awful guy," Thompson said of Trump. "The misogynistic comments, the hateful views toward immigrants, Muslims, people of color, some of the rhetoric that comes out of his mouth is a little scary."

Democratic activists say Trump is pitting citizens against each other and is painting an unrealistic portrait of America, exaggerating the country's problems while understating its strengths.

"We've got a good country, we've got a good future," said former North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays. "We need a cheerleader that really knows what the facts are and tells the truth, which is not what he's doing."

Insalaco, the state party chairman, dismissed the idea that Trump can make America great again. The United States, he said, is great right now and becoming greater.

"We have problems. We've always had problems. We had problems since we signed the Declaration of Independence, but we're actually in pretty good shape and we're moving ahead," he added.

A Section on 07/26/2016

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