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Democrats pin hopes on US House seat in Arkansas election

May 22, 2018

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Democrats in central Arkansas will choose the party's nominee for a Republican-held U.S. House seat the party believes it has a chance to reclaim this fall, while a state Supreme Court justice is seeking re-election in a campaign that's marked by an onslaught of attack ads from an out-of-state group.

The Arkansas Secretary of State's office hasn't predicted how many of the state's 1.7 million registered voters will cast a ballot in Tuesday's primary and nonpartisan judicial election. Tuesday marks the first statewide election using a state law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot. The Arkansas Supreme Court earlier this month ruled the state can enforce the revived voter ID law, despite a judge finding the measure unconstitutional.

The election is the first step in Democrats' hopes to end their shutout in predominantly GOP Arkansas. Republicans control all of the state's federal offices and its statewide partisan offices, as well as a majority in both chambers of the Legislature. The GOP has held the 2nd District seat since 2011.

Here are the top races at stake as voters head to the polls:

DEMOCRATIC HOUSE HOPES

National Democrats are touting state Rep. Clarke Tucker as the party's best chance to reclaim the 2nd Congressional District, which covers Little Rock and seven central Arkansas counties, currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill. Tucker has outpaced his rivals in the race in fundraising and has been running ads talking about his battle with cancer. He's running against two schoolteachers — Paul Spencer and Gwen Combs — and Jonathan Dunkley, the director of operations for the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service. If no one wins a majority of the vote, the top two candidates head to a June 19 runoff.

In northwestern Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Steve Womack is being challenged by Fayetteville pastor Robb Ryerse in the GOP primary. Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman, who represents southern and western Arkansas' 4th District, is being challenged by Randy Caldwell, a preacher.

HIGH COURT HIJINKS

State Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson has faced a barrage of television ads and mailers from conservative groups as she tries to win re-election on the state's highest court. Goodson is running against Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson and Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling for the nonpartisan seat. The Judicial Crisis Network, which targeted Goodson during her unsuccessful campaign to be chief justice two years ago, has spent more than $871,000 on TV ads criticizing Goodson and Hixson, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks judicial campaign spending. The Republican State Leadership Committee has spent more than $564,000 on TV ads and mailers in support of Sterling.

HUTCHINSON FAVORED

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is in a strong position to win re-election, touting $150 million in tax cuts he's signed into law, as well as his record on gun rights and anti-abortion measures. He faces a challenge from the right in the primary from Jan Morgan, a gun rights activist and cable news commentator who declared her Hot Springs gun range "Muslim-free" in 2014. The Democratic primary pits Jared Henderson, a former Teach for America executive, against Leticia Sanders, a hair braider from Maumelle.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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