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Democrats face long odds against Arkansas' GOP-dominated House

by Bill Bowden | November 9, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Democrats went into Tuesday's election hoping to bust the Republican super majority in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Republicans held 78 of the state House seats before the general election. Democrats had 22 but were hoping to increase that number to at least 26.

But late Tuesday night, election results were still trickling in, so it wasn't clear whether Democrats would be able to make a dent.

"From the very beginning, our stated goal was to start pushing toward busting the Republican super majority in the Legislature," said Grant Tennille, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. "We did not think we would win any statewide seats. We thought we would get close with a few."

"Arkansas Democrats did a good job fielding candidates in a cycle destined to be challenging for our state's off-brand party," said Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. "In this environment -- mid point in -- Democratic presidency, high inflation and an unusually high-profile Republican headliner, picking up even a single seat would be impressive."

The high-profile Republican headliner Parry was referring to is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who won the election for governor.

Seth Mays, director of the Republican Party of Arkansas' Victory campaign, said Sanders' gubernatorial campaign coupled with the unpopularity of Democratic President Joe Biden will benefit Republicans in state House races.

In November 2021, the state Board of Apportionment -- comprising the governor, attorney general and secretary of state -- approved new boundaries for legislative districts with information from the 2020 U.S. census. That means candidates for all state House and Senate seats were running in newly drawn districts in Tuesday's election.

Tennille said the new districts made reelection bids more competitive for Democratic state Reps. Steve Magie of Conway in House District 56, David Fielding of Magnolia in House District 98 and David Whitaker of Fayetteville in House District 22.

Mays said he expects the Republican candidates to oust Magie, Fielding and Whitaker.

By late Tuesday night, those races were too close to call. There were three candidates for House District 56, meaning one must get 50% of the vote plus one, or the two leading candidates must face each other in a runoff election. As of 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, no candidate had 50% of the vote in the House District 56 race.

With 95% of the votes counted, the unofficial returns in House District 56 were:

Steve Magie 4,039

Trent Minner 4,035

Howard Heffington 273

All three candidates are from Conway.

"We are still awaiting final results," Minner, the Republican in the race, said late Tuesday. "There are votes outstanding, and we should know more in the coming days. I appreciate all of the support throughout my campaign, and I remain committed to bringing the new and effective leadership Conway residents deserve to the state Capitol. Once all votes are counted, I am confident that we will win this race."

Will Watson, director of strategy for the state's Democratic Party, said only provisional votes were yet to be counted in Conway, and they may not be counted Tuesday night. So determining a winner in District 56 might take a while.

In House District 98, with 22% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Wade Andrews 934

David Fielding 911

In House District 22, David Whitaker was comfortably ahead, but votes were still being tallied.

With 61% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

David Whitaker 2,647

Brian Hester 1,979

But Whitaker seemed to have more updated numbers indicating he had won the election.

"I am grateful to the voters of District 22, who chose hope over fear, and placed their trust in me for another term in the Arkansas House of Representatives," said Whitaker. "Despite having to run in a badly gerrymandered district, my team fought hard and won a strong victory. Thank you!"

In House District 75, Little Rock Republican Heather Turchi was challenging state Rep. Ashley Hudson, a Little Rock Democrat. Mays said he expected Turchi to win that race.

But late Tuesday night, Hudson had a comfortable lead.

With 91% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

Ashley Hudson 5,377

Heather Turchi 4,166

Meanwhile, in east Arkansas, Democratic state Rep. Monte Hodges' decision to run for Congress meant he had to give up his seat in the Legislature. So the newly drawn House District 34 was somewhat up for grabs. By late Tuesday night, the Associated Press was showing no results for that race, which pits Republican Joey Carr against Democrat Ollie Collins.

Tennille said Diana Gonzales Worthen had a good chance to win a state House seat in in Northwest Arkansas, but as of late Tuesday night, she was trailing her Republican opponent in the House District 9 race.

With 31% of the votes counted, unofficial returns were:

DeAnna Hodges 660

Diana Gonzales Worthen 574

Steven Stilling 51

Print Headline: Democrats face long odds against GOP-dominated House


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