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story.lead_photo.caption Josh Mahony ( NWA Democrat-Gazette / Andy Shupe)

Joshua Mahony of Fayetteville dropped out of the U.S. Senate race Tuesday afternoon, announcing his decision in a tweet 136 minutes after the noon deadline for another Democrat to file.

The abrupt departure came roughly an hour and a half after the Republican Party of Arkansas had accused Mahony of misrepresenting his employment status on Federal Election Commission filings. The party then dropped the matter.

Because of a "family health concern," Mahony "will no longer be able to devote the time and energy that is necessary to run a viable campaign," Mahony for Senate stated in a news release that was posted to social media. "The campaign will cease operations immediately and Mr. Mahony asks for privacy during this time."

The move leaves Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle -- at least temporarily -- without a Democratic challenger. A Libertarian, Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. of Pine Bluff, and an independent, Dan Whitfield of Bella Vista, have also filed for the seat.

Neither Mahony nor his campaign manager, Keith Rosendahl, returned phone calls seeking comment.

[WEDNESDAY UPDATE: State law prevents Dems from replacing U.S. Senate candidate who dropped out, GOP official says » arkansasonline.com/news/2019/nov/13/gop-official-state-law-prevents-dems-replacing-us-/]

Arkansas Code 7-7-104 allows a party to replace its nominee in the event of "serious illness." A vacancy can also be filled when a nominee dies, moves out of the district or files to run for another position.

The preferential primary in which nominees are selected won't be held until March 3. As the lone Democratic candidate, Mahony was the presumptive, if unofficial, nominee for the party.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said the consequences of Mahony's decision aren't yet clear.

"Until we receive the official notification letter and the reason for his withdrawal, we cannot make any determination," he said.

Mahony's decision stunned leaders from both parties.

Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said he learned about Mahony's decision shortly after the news release was posted on social media.

"We had a very brief conversation," Gray said. "He asked me if I had seen the tweet. ... I told him I had not."

During their brief phone conversation, Mahony didn't disclose any details about the "health concern" that had led him to drop out, Gray said.

Nor did he say when the health problem had been discovered.

"We didn't have a chance to get that far into the conversation," Gray said.

Given Mahony's hard work and enthusiasm thus far, the challenge must have been significant, Gray said.

"I know Josh is a stand-up guy," Gray said. "[If] he feels like he has to withdraw from a race he was excited about, then it's serious enough. So my thoughts are with Josh and his family."

Will Watson, a Democratic candidate recruiter who had lunch with Mahony on Friday, was also surprised by the announcement.

There were no signs then that he was preparing to withdraw, Watson said.

In his news release, Mahony thanked those who had rallied behind his candidacy.

"I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to all of those who have supported me during this race. It has been the honor of my life to be able to meet and visit with so many Arkansans over the last six months and hear their voices," he said.

"It was my sincere hope to be their advocate in Washington, D.C.," he said. "However, in this moment right now, I need to focus on my family and place their interests first."

Cotton expressed concern when he heard the news, said Brian Colas, a campaign spokesman.

"He is praying for Josh and his family for a quick recovery and that all is well with him soon," Colas added.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Democrats were still in the process of reviewing state election law to determine the effect of Mahony's move, Gray said.

Republicans said the race -- for Democrats, at least -- is effectively over.

"In light of candidate Josh Mahony's decision to end his campaign today, and after researching Arkansas election laws, we are certain that no other Democrat candidate can enter the U.S. Senate race," said Republican Party of Arkansas spokesman Stephen Houserman. "Sen. Tom Cotton will be unopposed by any Democrat on the U.S. Senate ballot for Arkansas."

On Tuesday, the Republican Party of Arkansas said Mahony had falsely listed himself on Federal Election Commission contribution records as a "small business owner" employed by "EAM, LLC" "at least seventy-four times, despite admitting that he was actually unemployed during that time."

The party, which had threatened to report Mahony to the Federal Election Commission, has decided to drop the matter in light of his announcement Tuesday.

"With respect for Mr. Mahony and his family health issues, we will not pursue our formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission," Houserman said, adding, "We pray for the health and well-being of the Mahony family."

Mahony entered the Senate race in May, just months after losing his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers, in the 3rd Congressional District.

After garnering 32.6% of the vote in that race, Mahony turned his sights on the state's junior senator.

But he failed to comply with federal financial disclosure laws.

Under the Ethics in Government Act, Mahony was supposed to disclose his income, assets and liabilities for 2018 and part of 2019 shortly after entering the 2020 Senate race.

But he failed to do so, even after seeking and receiving three 30-day extensions.

A couple of hours after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette inquired about the overdue financial disclosure report, Mahony filed it with the secretary of the Senate. But he submitted an inaccurate version that omitted assets and income that are supposed to be listed.

When the newspaper inquired about the omissions, he filed the 2020 form again and again, eventually revising it five times.

After the newspaper asked questions about information contained in his 2018 financial disclosure, he announced that errors had been discovered there as well.

Last month, he filed an updated version for 2018, too.

Mahony, who largely self-funded his recent campaigns, also faced questions about his work history.

His Senate campaign website initially said that he was a "natural resources executive" who "owns a natural resources company."

But after the Democrat-Gazette asked about the accuracy of the claims, Mahony said he was no longer an executive and no longer owned the company.

His partnership interest in EAM Co. LLC, one of his family's businesses, had been sold, more than a year before he entered the race, for $23,616, the campaign said.

"That was a clerical error," Mahony said.

In the 2018 and 2020 financial disclosure forms, Mahony initially listed few personal assets and no earned income in 2017, 2018 or 2019.

He listed his wife's "current year to filing" earned income as $253,866 on the House financial disclosure form filed in April 2018. Rhianon DeLeeuw was a senior director of consumables and health and wellness strategy at Walmart at the time. She subsequently was promoted to vice president, Walmart U.S. operations finance.

Asked about the last time he had held paid, full-time employment, Mahony said: "I'm not certain. I'd have to go back and look. Frankly, I haven't put a lot of thought into that."

Most of his earnings had come in the form of dividends, he had said.

Information for this article was contributed by Hunter Field and John Moritz of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 11/13/2019

Print Headline: Less than 2½ hours after filing deadline, U.S. Senate challenger Joshua Mahony exits race

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