Rural Voters for Halter: The New CW in ARSen

We’ve noted a couple times here, in the wake of the Democratic Senate primary in Arkansas, that the vote breakdown doesn’t entirely support the “The activists are coming!” theme sounded in some corners of the press. As columnist John Brummett of the Arkansas News Bureau put it when observing that challenger Bill Halter ran strongest in the state’s more rural counties, Halter appears to have made his way into a run-off with Blanche Lincoln on the strength of “liberal money and conservative votes.”

It looks like that idea, or some variation on it, is becoming the conventional wisdom. Via the Arkansas politics blog Blake’s Think Tank, here’s an account from Sunday by reporter John Lyon, also for the Arkansas News Bureau:

“The results were really kind of counterintuitive,” said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. “Lincoln’s the Agriculture Committee chair from East Arkansas, and she’s under attack from the liberal or progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and yet her best counties were counties like Pulaski County, the most urban, most liberal county in the state.”

Lincoln, a two-term incumbent, received 52 percent of the vote in Pulaski County, according to unofficial election data from the secretary of state’s office. Halter, who grew up and lives in Pulaski County, received 40 percent of the county’s vote and Morrison, a fellow Pulaski County resident, received 8 percent.

Lincoln also captured 58 percent of Benton County’s Democratic vote, compared to Halter’s 35 percent, and 52 percent in Washington County, compared to Halter’s 42 percent.

Meanwhile, Lincoln fared worst in rural counties such as Little River, where she received 28 percent of the vote to Halter’s 62 percent; Calhoun, with 30 percent to Halter’s 47 percent; Sevier, with 30 percent to Halter’s 58 percent; and Miller, with 31 percent to Halter’s 60 percent.

And also:

Andrew Dowdle, an associate professor of political science at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said Halter’s status as father of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery apparently wasn’t a big factor in the race.

…The lottery received the most support in Crittenden, Jefferson and Phillips counties, each of which gave the measure 70 percent of the vote in 2008. Love for the lottery didn’t carry over to Halter, though: All three counties favored Lincoln by wide margins Tuesday.

Dowdle said that in many ways the county-by-county election results are the opposite of what one would expect in a race fought along traditional liberal-conservative lines. That’s because it isn’t that kind of race, though observers outside the state have tried to define it that way, he said.

It’s possible the voting coalitions that the candidates assembled in the first round will be scrambled in the June 8 run-off, of course. But that seems unlikely—the areas where the now-eliminated third candidate, the conservative D.C. Morrison, was strongest are generally the same areas where Lincoln was weakest, so the shape of the vote isn’t likely to change much.

Either way, the unexpected vote breakdown has been well reported by now. When national reporters return to cover the run-off—and, in all likelihood, fit the result into a narrative along with the other primaries that happen that day—everyone who’s been paying attention will take it into account.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.