Thurston defeats Republican challenger

Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston fended off a challenge from former state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams to win Tuesday's Republican primary for the state's chief election officer.

With an estimated 96% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Thurston 235,879

Williams 91,244

Thurston thanked his family and supporters for putting their trust in him.

"I am honored and humbled to have won the Republican primary and be the nominee of our party," he said in a statement to news media at 9:15 p.m.

Reached by phone shortly after, Williams said he had called Thurston to thank him for his willingness to serve.

"The people of Arkansas spoke loud and clear and I understand," he said.

Thurston will likely face Democrat Anna Beth Gorman, who defeated Josh Price in that party's primary, in the Nov. 8 general election.

With an estimated 74.5% of votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Gorman 46,019

Price 32,193

Reached shortly after 9:30 p.m., Gorman said the early numbers were exciting and evidence that her campaign's positive message had resonated in the state.

"Arkansans want to talk about opportunity," she said.

Price said about 10 p.m. that it was too early to tell who the winner would be.

The secretary of state's office oversees elections, maintains the state Capitol grounds and processes a number of services for businesses and nonprofits.

In his campaign, Williams cast doubt on the security of Arkansas' elections under Thurston and said the incumbent's response to racial justice protests at the state Capitol in summer 2020 was inadequate.

Thurston touted record turnout in the 2020 election, which was the first time all of the state's 75 counties had used the same integrated voting system.

He also counted handling of federal coronavirus relief funds, including Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses, the opening of a satellite business and commercial services office in Fayetteville and securing and distributing $1 million worth of personal protection equipment among his office's successes.

Thurston, 49, of East End, served two terms as state land commissioner before being elected secretary of state in 2018. Before running for state office, he worked in ministry operations at Agape Church in Little Rock and was a certified religious assistant in state prisons.

Williams, 67, of Cabot, was in the Arkansas Senate from 2011 to 2017, when he resigned to accept former President Donald Trump's appointment to the Southern States Energy Board. He served on that board for 3½ years. His resume also includes four years as mayor of Cabot and nearly 40 years working for Union Pacific Railroad, ultimately as terminal director.

While both candidates prioritized secure elections in their campaigns, Williams took shots at Thurston for issues in Pulaski County during the 2020 election and for not taking an active role when voting-related legislation came before the Arkansas General Assembly in 2021.

Thurston said elections are run at the county level and he doesn't "grandstand" on bills he agrees with and knows will pass.

In his election night statement, Thurston said he looked forward "to the fall campaign and a Republican sweep with a strong group of GOP nominees."

In the Democratic contest, the candidates aligned on wanting to increase voter engagement and supporting online voter registration.

But while Price emphasized his on-the-ground experience as a former Pulaski County Election Commissioner, Gorman said her experience running a statewide nonprofit, the Women's Foundation of Arkansas, made her more qualified and that she was the best candidate to take on the Republican nominee in November.

"I feel I really am the stronger candidate with my background working statewide," she said.

Gorman, 40, of North Little Rock, previously worked as chief membership, volunteer and program officer for Girl Scouts Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Price, 42, of Maumelle, has worked as digital communications director and policy advisor for the Delta Regional Authority and as public information officer for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

An issue raised by both parties in the campaign was the office's website, particularly the system for tracking political campaign contributions and expenditures. Thurston's challengers described it as unintuitive, cumbersome and in need of updates. Thurston said he felt those frustrations; his administration has been in the process of procuring a new system expected to be in place in early 2023.

Arkansas' secretary of state is limited to two four-year terms and draws an annual salary of $98,371.

Upcoming Events