by Jay Barth
Jay Barth, Hendrix politics prof and Times contributor, offers the following analysis on Republican primary voting patterns and what they could mean for a candidate from outside Northwest Arkansas, the historic GOP base in the state.
The evidence that House Speaker Davy Carter is seriously contemplating a run for the Republican nomination for Governor against a candidate, Asa Hutchinson, with proven vote-getting ability in Northwest Arkansas raises the fundamental question of whether a candidate from outside that region can win a Republican primary.
Just a handful of election cycles ago, the answer to the question would have been clear: candidates with a strong base in Northwest Arkansas — even if there were doubts about their statewide general election viability — could make it through a GOP primary. For instance, in 2006, state Senator Jim Holt crushed opponents from Central Arkansas and Northeast Arkansas in the GOP runoff for Lieutenant Governor, gaining over 56% of the vote and avoiding a primary.
A glance at the vote totals in the 2012 GOP primary, shown in the map above, shows that Northwest Arkansas does indeed remain the source of a great share of Republican votes. But, tremendous change has occurred in just a few years. As Republicanism has become more pronounced in the state, participation in the GOP primary has begun to spread across Arkansas. The combined vote in Pulaski County, the three heavily white suburban counties of Saline, Faulkner, and Lonoke (which Carter represents)and two adjoining counties (Garland and White) now approximates that of Northwest Arkansas. Moreover, significant chunks of votes are now found across the state. While GOP voters remain relatively rare in the Delta counties where Carter, originally from Marianna, came of age, decent sized votes can be found in the other corners of the state.
A candidate like Carter would have to run up huge margins in the Little Rock metropolitan area and develop an expansive statewide network that could provide him wins in the counties outside the corridor of counties running from Benton to Sebastian. It’s not an easy task for a candidate who’s never run for office outside of a small House district, but it’s achievable in a quickly expanding GOP electorate in Arkansas.