1875. That was the last time Arkansas’s entire congressional delegation was composed of Republicans. Needless to say, Election Day represented a transformation in Arkansas’s politics. Not only was Mark Pryor the first senator in US history to lose a general election despite having no major-party opposition in the previous election cycle, but he also lost by a margin much larger than most could have predicted even a few days out.
As hard as it is to believe given the focus placed on the state’s airwaves this past year, Republicans couldn’t even field a candidate against Pryor six years ago (six years ago, there was also only one Republican congressman in the state).
So what was so historic? The easy answer is that this is no longer the state that repeatedly sent Bill Clinton to the Governor’s Mansion.
Despite some beliefs that a Hillary candidacy could put this state in play, Arkansas is now firmly in the Republican column.
Bill was particularly emotionally attached to the election results from this year, and despite his pleas for Arkansans to “vote [their] heart[s],” Republicans swept every single contested race across the state.
Mark Pryor’s campaign got off to a rough start when he said that Republican Congressman Tom Cotton’s (who was the subject of an excellent profile in National Journal) service in the military gave him a “sense of entitlement.” Keep in mind that Pryor’s father was a senator who actually held the same seat that Pryor had occupied for two terms. Some entitlement.
Cotton had a particularly noteworthy response to this claim by Pryor, saying that “you learn a lot more about leadership at Officer Candidate School and leading troops in the streets of Baghdad than in the halls of Congress.”
What is particularly remarkable is that, despite only being projected to win by 7 points in the RCP averages, Cotton won by 17 points in a race that was widely perceived as being a tossup through the end (although I had said from the start that he would win).
In 2010, Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln lost reelection by 21 (!!) points to now-Senator John Boozman. For much of the election cycle, Pryor had eluded comparisons to Lincoln, but the fact that Cotton beat him so spectacularly makes me wonder if those contrasts were as accurate as many held them to be (like Lincoln, in his attempts to win support from Republicans, he managed to alienate plenty of Democrats, and also like Lincoln, his effort to win over Republican votes failed).
Turning to Arkansas’s governor’s race, it is helpful to remember that Democratic Governor Mike Beebe is astonishingly popular. He won reelection in 2010 (the same year Republicans captured three out of the four House seats) by an almost 2-1 margin, carrying every single county, despite a hostile natural environment.
This year’s governor’s race is similar to the senate race in the sense that it was perceived to be a tossup for much of the election cycle, despite the fact that Republican Asa Hutchinson easily prevailed over Mike Ross by a 14 point margin. Hutchinson is now the first Republican governor since Mike Huckabee (there was a much shorter dry spell for Republicans in the Governor’s Mansion than in the Senate).
Turning to the House, there were two open districts that Democrats tried to target, with the belief that having Pryor and Ross at the top of the ticket might help down ballot candidates. It turns out they couldn’t have been more wrong, losing both races by 8.3% and 11.1%.
To make matters worse for Democrats, Republicans even won the Attorney General’s race, capturing the seat for the first time since Reconstruction.
Could this all have been predicted? Looking back on it, a special election in a State Senate district that had never elected a Republican sent John Cooper to the legislature almost a full year before this transformational election (for more on that race, click here).
1875 is a long time ago, and despite reliably electing Democrats to a variety of offices in the recent past, Arkansas’s future is bright red.