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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: What voters could do

by John Brummett | May 24, 2022 at 3:55 a.m.

We confront two mildly interesting questions in today's primaries in Arkansas.

One is whether voters will force statewide Republican runoffs that would inconvenience or even alarm a couple of GOP a-listers.

One of those inconvenienced or alarmed would be U.S. Sen. John Boozman. He is running for a third term that he will sublease to Mar-a-Lago.

The other would be Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in her downgrade under duress to an office she finds beneath her, lieutenant governor, and to whatever viability its irrelevance would sustain.

The second question is whether we'll see indications that independents and Democrats availed themselves of the state's open-primary system to vote in the Republican primary either to serve their souls or their state.

They'd serve their souls by formally disapproving of Sarah Sanders the first chance they get. That would be a reflexive, emotional vote against the Donald Trump agent and her arrogant big-bucks march to gubernatorial coronation.

Reflexive, emotional votes against what one detests drive our elections at an ever-increasing rate. There isn't much positive to vote for anymore, with Republicans an anti-democratic personality cult and Democrats blundering clowns.

Just to be clear: Voting against Sanders today would require voting for Doc Washburn, a radio talker who is running somehow to her right. Mainly that means he'd get rid of income taxes at once and she'd bankrupt the state less abruptly.

Voters of Democratic and independent persuasion would serve their state rather than souls by voting today in Republican primaries in areas with no local Democratic primaries. That's about two-thirds of the state's acreage. The point would be to relieve Arkansas of the more-extreme local Republican legislative option in favor of a more basic conservative Republican option that would be less incendiary and do less harm.

That would be a strategic vote rather than a reflexive, emotional one. Strategic voting has never been widespread.

For the record, because people haven't widely thought about it: Arkansas does not have party registration and its primaries are open, meaning you needn't be a card-carrier of one to vote in its primary. You may vote in either, but not both. Just show the nice person at the polling place your driver's license and tell her which party's ballot you want. Then cast the ballot and go home and shower.

The primary choice does not bind or limit your general election choice. You may vote against Sanders now and vote against her again in November, serving your soul and decency twice, and losing twice. You may vote for the less-extreme Republican for the Legislature now, then vote for the Democratic candidate--if there is one--in November.

Democratic regulars in Little Rock, where they actually can compete, are saying rural Democrats ought to vote in the Democratic primary even if there are no local races in it. They expect rural Democrats to vote meaninglessly on the local level out of loyalty to dismissive ineptitude in Washington and woeful anemia in Little Rock.

Now, about those two conceivable statewide Republican runoffs after today's votes are counted:

Boozman has polled in the mid-40s with 15 to 20 percent undecided in his matchup with two extremists: Tim Tebow-sacker Jake Bequette, whose odd Herschel Walker-ish campaign is largely underwritten by one rich guy with a super PAC, and the self-proclaimed "Gun Goddess," Jan Morgan, a morphing of Sarah Palin and Marjorie Taylor-Greene.

Most likely, Boozman will get above 50 percent because, in contradiction of his incurably low-key manner, he has campaigned--or been campaigned for by surrogates less inept--largely with this message: If you want a Trumpian extremist, I'll be one.

The highlight of his campaign was his phone call to Trump to apologize for having gotten caught on camera telling the truth that Trump got beat in 2020.

Seemingly more susceptible to a runoff is Rutledge. She had been intending to ascend to the governorship. But Sanders got dispatched by Trump to command his outpost instead.

Term-limited as attorney general, Rutledge was left to run for the lieutenant governor post she had called boring to one like her who'd been in a real job.

She also had to go back on her word to Jason Rapert, the fiddling Church Lady, that she wouldn't run for the job he was seeking in the Republican primary.

She polls around 40 percent. Rapert is taking some of the evangelical base, and Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe is a mild threat with geographic support in vote-rich Benton County and mild appeal to more conventionally conservative establishment-type Republicans. Then there's Chris Bequette, who makes Jake seem moderate and whose candidacy will measure the full-nuts Republican population.

There are two other candidates who might get enough votes to keep Rutledge under 50 percent.

It's possible that Arkansas could be sentenced today to three weeks of Rutledge-versus-Rapert for an office that doesn't do anything.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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