LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Senate candidates John Boozman and Conner Eldridge have been criss-crossing Arkansas in a final push to win votes ahead of Tuesday’s general election.
Boozman, 65, of Rogers grew up in Fort Smith and is a former optometrist. The Republican served in the U.S. House for nearly 10 years before being elected to the Senate in 2010 and is currently seeking re-election to a second Senate term.
Eldridge, 39, of Fayetteville grew up in Augusta and Lonoke and is a former Fort Smith-based U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. He is challenging Boozman as a Democrat.
Competing in the race as a Libertarian is Frank Gilbert, 66, of Tull, who grew up in Van Buren and is school suspension manager for the Bauxite School District.
Over the past few days, Boozman has made appearances in Paragould, Jonesboro, Searcy, Fayetteville, Rogers and Little Rock, with Monday campaign stops planned in Van Buren, Fort Smith and Little Rock.
Eldridge made campaign stops Friday in Searcy, Cabot, Jacksonville, Little Rock and Bentonville, and his calendar included stops in Fayetteville and Prairie Grove on Saturday, Little Rock on Sunday and Pine Bluff on Monday. He said more stops would be added Monday.
Polls have suggested Boozman holds a comfortable lead. A Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College poll conducted Oct. 21 showed Boozman holding an 18-point lead over Eldridge, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percent. The University of Arkansas’ annual Arkansas Poll, conducted Oct. 18-27, showed Boozman with an identical lead over Eldridge among respondents who said they are very likely to vote in the election, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.
The Arkansas Poll also showed that 38 percent of very likely voters said they approve of Boozman’s job performance, 29 percent disapproved and 33 percent did not know or refused to answer.
Boozman also has enjoyed a fundraising advantage. Over the entire election cycle he has raised about $4.5 million, and he has aired five different television ads during the general election race. Eldridge said he has raised about $2 million, including loans he made to his campaign, and has aired three ads.
Boozman was in Little Rock on Saturday to participate in the sixth annual Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Embassy Suites hotel. Among the people he chatted with before the ceremony were former Northside High School classmates and football teammates John Johnson of Fort Smith and his brother Brun Johnson of California, sons of the late James Brun Johnson, one of the 15 inductees.
“He’s always been a great guy — low-key, soft spoken, very involved, smart, and always did the right thing,” John Johnson said of Boozman. “And he would knock your head off on the football field.”
Eldridge has criticized Boozman for being low-key. John Johnson said it a good quality in a politician, not a negative.
“He listens,” he said. “He thinks before he talks and doesn’t spout off.”
Boozman said he is not relaxing because of his lead in the polls.
“We’ve worked really hard in the last weeks,” he said. “But I think more importantly, we’ve worked really hard for the last six years. We’ve had multiple visits to all of the counties in the state. We’ve had over 750 unique county visits, 19,000 people that we’ve visited about casework problems. So you don’t just do this the last few weeks or the last year. You do your job the entire time and it takes care of itself.”
Boozman said his campaign’s polling shows him with an approval rating in the 50s and said he could not explain why the Arkansas Poll showed a significantly lower percentage.
“Once the election is over we’ll be visiting with the University of Arkansas to see what their methodology is,” he said.
At a campaign stop Friday in Cabot, Eldridge walked through the Purple Onion restaurant talking to diners before sitting down with campaign staff and family members for lunch.
“Shaking hands and kissing babies,” Eldridge said, summing up life on the campaign trail.
While talking to a group at one table, Eldridge was invited by Julie Whalen of Cabot to pray with her and her friends. Eldridge bowed his head as Whalen led the prayer.
“I think he seems very genuine,” Whalen said after Eldridge had moved on to the next table.
Nick Mitchell of Austin said after chatting with Eldridge that he recognized him from his television ads featuring a pickup with two lecterns fixed to the truck bed. In the ads, Eldridge criticizes Boozman for only agreeing to one debate with him.
“That truck is awesome,” Mitchell said.
Eldridge said he questions Boozman’s supposed lead in the race, saying that “a couple of polls” are not much to go on. He said the Arkansas Poll was conducted over 10 days, “which is too long for a poll,” and said the Talk Business poll is not reliable because it was conducted via land lines and excluded people who only have cell phones.
Eldridge also said Boozman’s approval rating in the Arkansas Poll — among very likely voters Boozman’s rating was 1 point above President Barack Obama’s, and among all respondents it was one point below Obama’s — and the fact that a third of respondents did not answer “means that he hasn’t done anything. He’s our absent, silent senator. He’s been going to Paris, France, more than he’s been in Arkansas.”
Monday is the final day of early voting before election day.