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State Senate races tightly contested

Runoffs likely for several primaries by Neal Earley | May 25, 2022 at 6:42 a.m.

One Republican challenger took down an incumbent state senator, while two other incumbents will face runoffs in an attempt to keep their seats in the state legislature.

Garland County Justice of the Peace Matt McKee defeated incumbent state Sen. Bill Sample in the Republican Primary for Senate District 6. The newly drawn Senate District 6 covers most of Garland County, including Hot Springs and the western edge of Saline County.

McKee, who also serves as the Garland County Republican Party chairman, ran on opposing vaccine mandates and cutting taxes. McKee will face Democrat Courtney Warwick McKee in November.

With an estimated 99% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Matt McKee 5,613

Bill Sample 5,297

The District 22 Republican primary is likely headed to a runoff between incumbent Sen. James Sturch and state Rep. John Payton, as no candidate reached the 50% threshold.

With an estimated 99.0% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

John Payton 6,275

James Sturch 5,353

Ethan J. Barnes 3,566

Sturch, a 31-year-old teacher, faced a tough primary challenge from Payton, 55, who chastised the incumbent for his vote against House Bill 1761, to ban public schools from teaching the United States is systemically racist. Sturch has served in the General Assembly since he was 23 years old, first in the House of Representatives and then the Senate.

In the District 17 Republican primary, State Sen. Mark Johnson, of Ferndale, fended off a challenge from Conway state Rep. Spencer Hawks, 38, in a contest where both lawmakers pitted their conservative credentials against one another. Johnson, 67, will face Democrat David Barber in November.

The new District 17 covers portions of northwest Pulaski County, including Roland and southwest Faulkner County, including Conway. Johnson, who was endorsed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee, took shots at Hawks' voting record, citing the state representative's votes against bills for gender affirming care for minors and for missing a vote on a bill preventing cities from enacting "sanctuary city" policies on immigration.

With an estimated 99.0% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Mark Johnson 5,572

Spencer Hawks 4,686

In District 2, which covers portions of Grant, Dallas, Ouachita and Union counties, Matt Stone, of Camden, will face Democrat Garry L. Smith in November. Republican Sen. Trent Garner, of El Dorado, said in January he won't seek reelection, opening up a Senate seat in southern Arkansas. Garner endorsed Stone, who is Garner's father-in-law.

Stone also had endorsements from other key Arkansas Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and Republican nominee for governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Stone said if elected he wants to "develop our economy and our educational system until it meets our full potential."

With an estimated 99.0% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Matt Stone 5,492

Beth Callaway 1,921

James McMenis 911

In the Senate District 28 primary, Republican Sen. Bob Ballinger, of Ozark, will face former state Sen. Bryan B. King in a runoff election. No candidates met the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff.

With an estimated 98.6% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Bryan King 4,854

Bob Ballinger 4,459

Keith Slape 2,936

Robert Largent 1,577

Theodore Walker 1,457

After serving in the Arkansas House for three terms, Ballinger was elected to the Senate in 2019, representing a district that includes portions of Carroll, Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Sebastian, Washington and Madison counties. The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Jim Wallace in November.

Ballinger had endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Arkansas Right to Life. King, of Green Forest, focused much of his campaign on combating corruption.

In District 3 race, incumbent Sen. Charles Beckham held a slim lead over Steve Crowell.

With an estimated 99.0% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Charles Beckhan 5,076

Steve Crowell 4,857

Tuesday's primary was the first election after lawmakers redrew district boundaries after the 2020 census, meaning incumbent candidates ran for newly drawn seats. Arkansas' population increased by 3,011,524 with much of the growth concentrated in the Northwest and Central Arkansas.

The Arkansas Board of Apportionment drew Senate districts to roughly meet the goal of 86,044 people per district. Thanks to redistricting incumbents founds themselves running for reelection in new districts with different boundaries. Only one primary, the race for Senate District 9, had two Democratic challengers facing one another in a primary.

In Northwest Arkansas' District 34, which includes parts of Benton County, state Rep. Jim Dotson beat Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie.

With an estimated 99.0% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Jim Dotson 6,240

Peter Christie 3,153

In the lone contested Democratic primary race, state Rep. Reginald Murdock beat Dorothy Cooper in the District 9 race.

District 9 covers a large part of the Arkansas Delta including portions of Crittenden, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips counties.

With an estimated 99% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Reginald Murdock 3,909

Dorothy Cooper 1,764

Murdock, a six-term state representative from Marianna, is seeking to replace Senate Democratic Leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis, who is not seeking another term. Murdock will face Republican Terry Fuller in November.

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