Friday, October 1, 2010

Explaining Arkansas politics, with reference to rurality

The headline on Campbell Brown's story in today's New York Times is "Democrats' Fall May be Deepest in Arkansas," and in it she explains Arkansas's political landscape with several references to rurality. Here's an excerpt that describes the current situation:
But Democrats in Arkansas, who have long dominated state and local offices despite the state’s essentially conservative electorate, have not been in this much trouble for as long as anyone can remember, at least anyone who was not around during Reconstruction.
Noting that Arkansas has for several decades been "something of a political outlier," Brown lays out the data. She notes that while Arkansas voters have in recent elections supported Republican presidential candidates, 8 of the state's last 10 governors have been Democrats. Further, Arkansas has sent only one Republican to the Senate in the past 130 years, and three of its four representatives in the U.S. House are Democrats. Ninety-nine of 135 state legislators are also Democrats, as is Governor Mike Beebe, who appears set for re-election. Brown summarizes that, although the state has a "mostly conservative Southern outlook," it does not have "the Southern shade of red." She then speculates about why that is.
There are many reasons that Arkansas stayed loyal to the Democratic Party while other Southern states steadily walked, then ran, from the party.
Students of Arkansas politics point out the state’s long tradition of rural populism, the slow development of its suburbs and a run of uncommonly adept Democratic politicians, a group that includes the former governor and senator Dale Bumpers, the former governor and senator David Pryor and, of course, Bill Clinton. Arkansas also has a smaller percentage of black residents than other Southern states, where Democrats must court black voters and rural white voters with equal zeal, leading to messages that are at times so divergent as to be contradictory.
Yet in spite of this past, the Republican candidate is leading in the race for the U.S. Senate seat that Democrat Blanche Lincoln is trying to retain, and Republicans are also leading in the races for two U.S. House seats--seats long held by Democrats.

Additional posts about Arkansas politics are here, here, here, here, and here.

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