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story.lead_photo.caption Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, joined by husband Boyce Johnson and daughter Julianna, speaks to supporters Tuesday night at a watch party in Little Rock. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge claimed victory in her bid for a second term as Arkansas' legal chief Tuesday night as she quickly disposed of a challenge by Little Rock attorney Mike Lee, a Democrat.

In an interview at the Arkansas GOP campaign rally in Little Rock, Rutledge said the victory positioned her to continue fighting against federal regulations, criminals and con artists.

"We had a lot of energy across Arkansas," Rutledge said, giving thanks to her staff. "Good personnel makes good policy and good policy makes good politics."

Lee, a former toy regulator with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said he called Rutledge about 9 p.m. to concede the race.

"I congratulated her on her victory. I hope she continues to serve the people of Arkansas well," Lee said.

Libertarian Kerry Hicks of Mena was also on the ballot. Not a licensed attorney, Hicks said he would bring a fresh perspective to the post, while delegating legal tasks to the lawyers working in the attorney general's office.

With 2,397 of 2,607 precincts reporting, unofficial returns were:

Rutledge 531,308

Lee 306,879

Hicks 23,910

Rutledge is the state's first female attorney general. She was elected to her first four-year term in 2014 -- when Republicans swept statewide offices -- while promising to use her role to sue the "overreaching federal government."

The Republican has lived up to that promise by filing or joining with other state attorneys general in lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and even President Donald Trump's administration. The latter was part of a multistate effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Rutledge also joined a 20-state lawsuit seeking to upend President Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a move that drew criticism from Lee during the campaign.

From left: Kerry Hicks, Mike Lee and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

The Affordable Care Act paved the way for Arkansas to expand Medicaid coverage in 2013 through a program known as the private option. Under Gov. Asa Hutchinson the private option -- now called Arkansas Works -- provides health insurance to about 250,000 low-income Arkansans, with most of the cost covered by the federal government.

Lee accused Rutledge of jeopardizing those Arkansans' health coverage if she succeeds in her lawsuit. Rutledge has said that if the courts overturn the Affordable Care Act, Congress will be tasked with finding a solution for states that expanded their Medicaid programs.

In addition to her litigious relationship with the federal government, Rutledge drew heat from both Lee and national Democrats for her leadership of the Republican Attorneys General Association. Her chairmanship of that group began last year.

[2018 ELECTION: Full Democrat-Gazette coverage of Arkansas races]

Lee criticized the hundreds of thousands of dollars the association raised from pharmaceutical companies under Rutledge's leadership, saying it compromised her position in fighting those same companies over the opioid epidemic.

Together with state and national Democrats, Lee also launched campaign attacks against Rutledge's sudden departure from a prior job at the Department of Human Services and her decision to take security along to out-of-state political trips while attorney general.

In response, Rutledge said of Lee, "I really don't think he's as mean as he is being asked to be."

During the campaign, Rutledge also gave birth to her first child, whom she named Julianna Carol, in August. Rutledge announced that she was pregnant in April. She married her husband, Boyce Johnson, in 2015. The couple splits their time between Maumelle and a farm near Marion.

Information for this article was contributed by Amanda Claire Curcio of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 11/07/2018

Print Headline: GOP's Leslie Rutledge keeps Arkansas AG office


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