U.S. Sen. John Boozman secures GOP nomination for his Senate seat; James wins Democratic nomination

FILE - Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Boozman is running for reelection in the Arkansas Republican primary on May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon File)
FILE - Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. Boozman is running for reelection in the Arkansas Republican primary on May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon File)

Republican John Boozman coasted to victory in the Senate Republican primary on Tuesday, embracing an endorsement from former President Donald Trump as he fended off challengers from the right.

The victory caps off Arkansas’ most high-profile congressional campaign this primary cycle, one that drove millions of dollars in spending between campaigns and super PACs.

The race underscored Trump’s continued influence in Arkansas as multiple Republican candidates jockeyed to tie themselves to the former president’s brand, despite his 2020 election defeat and his impeachment over allegations of inciting insurrection.

The two-term senator turned back challenges from former NFL player Jake Bequette of Little Rock, Jan Morgan, a gun range owner from Hot Springs, and Heath Loftis, a Stuttgart pastor.

With an estimated 98.2% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Boozman 198,842

Bequette 70,957

Morgan 64,964

Loftis 7,978

Boozman, a Rogers resident, embraced Trump’s support and his campaign made the endorsement a key part of its messaging. Trump’s endorsement was highlighted on social media, plastered near the bottom of fundraising emails and featured in campaign advertisements.

”We appreciate the support of President Trump. He’s very very popular in Arkansas and certainly that made a difference,” Boozman said in an interview Tuesday night.

Addressing a crowd of supporters in Little Rock, the incumbent said his goal is to listen and learn from all Arkansans. He also described inflation as a cruel tax.

“But I’m here to tell you, there’s no problem the American people can’t fix if we come together and use the ideas that have made us great,” he said.

The 71-year-old senator ran with the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House press secretary for Trump and former campaign manager for Boozman.

Boozman’s primary opponents cast doubt on his conservative credentials, portraying him as a career politician who has not been loyal to the former president.

The incumbent voted in line with Trump’s positions 91.5% of the time, according to a tally from FiveThirtyEight, a data-driven news and analysis website.

But the two men diverged when it came to how to handle the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Boozman backed Trump’s reelection bid but opposed efforts to overturn certified election results. The senator has described an attempt to overturn the election results as unconstitutional and a threat to core American values.

He nonetheless voted to acquit Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors; Trump was acquitted after only 57 of the 100 senators found him guilty.

Morgan slammed Boozman during the campaign over his decision to accept the 2020 presidential election results, saying “he betrayed the people of Arkansas, and he threw our president under the bus.”

For his part, Bequette said he would have joined U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz from Texas, who both objected to certified 2020 presidential election results.

Bequette also said he does not believe President Joe Biden was legitimately elected as president.

The certified election results and the Electoral College reflected a victory by Biden.

An investigation of the 2020 election by The Associated Press found fewer than 475 potential cases of voter fraud out of 25.5 million ballots cast for president across six states Trump had disputed.

Bequette has called Boozman a RINO, an acronym meaning Republican In Name Only, and argued the incumbent only sides with Trump when he can benefit.

Bequette, an Army veteran and former Arkansas Razorback football player, branded himself as a “patriot” and described himself as “no squish career politician.”

But his efforts were not enough to topple Boozman, the senior member of the state’s congressional delegation and the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Boozman, who is also a former Razorback football player, has emphasized issues with direct ties to Arkansas, such as veterans affairs. He’s also worked across the aisle on the Agriculture Committee in order to advance legislation backed by Arkansas farmers.

And as a leader of the bipartisan Hunger Caucus, he backed efforts to ease food insecurity and increase poor children’s access to meals.

Boozman’s campaign committee spent $4.9 million during the election cycle as of May 4 while Bequette’s campaign spent more than $888,000, according to pre-primary reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Outside groups also poured significant amounts of money into the race.

A super PAC named Heartland Resurgence spent money backing Boozman’s election bid and dropped more than $500,000 in April for television advertising opposing Bequette. The super PAC lists a Missouri P.O. box on FEC files.

Investment banker Warren Stephens of Arkansas poured at least $500,000 into the super PAC so far this year while poultry executive Ronald Cameron of Arkansas funneled at least $250,000 so far this year, according to filings with the FEC.

Meanwhile, Bequette received support from a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC named the Arkansas Patriots Fund, which paid for multiple six-figure ad buys.

That super PAC was in part funded by Dick Uihlein of the packaging supply company Uline. The out-of-state political donor has funneled at least $1.5 million into the group.

Also on Tuesday, real estate agent Natalie James of Little Rock finished first in the state’s Democratic Senate primary over small-business owner Dan Whitfield of Bella Vista and Jack Foster, a former Pine Bluff City Council member.

With an estimated 96.7% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

James 49,422

Whitfield 28,106

Foster 13,690

James has described herself as a community activist and community advocate. She’s said she supports an expanded Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health care law.

“Arkansas is speaking out and ready for a change. Arkansas is screaming that they are ready for a young person to get up and lead,” she said.

James will likely face an uphill battle in the November general election because of Arkansas’ conservative political landscape.

Democrats haven’t won a U.S. House or Senate race in Arkansas since 2010 and Boozman begins with a big fundraising lead.

James emphasized the need for new leadership, saying, “It’s time for us change agents to get up and do what we need to do.”

Tess Vrbin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contributed to this report.

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