LITTLE ROCK — Republican domination of Arkansas’ state government continued to grow with last week’s election, a feat Rep. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said apparently was aided by having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.
“I did not believe that this would be a nationalized election,” Hutchinson, the titular head of the state Republican party, said Wednesday. “I think the change that was reflected at the national level permeated some of the legislative and local races here and helped carry some of those races, and so I think there was some coattail effect from the national level.”
The secretary of state’s office has reported that 1.1 million Arkansans, or 64 percent of the state’s registered voters, cast ballots in the election. Trump received 61 percent of Arkansas’ vote in the presidential race, according to unofficial election results from the secretary of state’s office.
Hutchinson said voters turned out to vote for the Republican presidential candidate, “and that carried on down the line to local races.”
“It continued to emphasize that Arkansas has really transitioned from a Democratic-dominated state during my lifetime to a two-party system to now truly a red state that is impacted at every level,” he said.
On Tuesday, Republicans won nine House seats and two Senate seats currently held by non-Republicans:
—Republican John Maddox won an open race for the seat now held by Rep. Nate Bell, I-Mena.
—Republican Roger Lynch defeated incumbent Rep. Camille Bennett, D-Lonoke.
—Republican Les Warren won an open race for the seat now held by Rep. John Vines, D-Hot Springs.
—Republican Danny Watson defeated incumbent Rep. Brent Talley, D-Hope.
—Republican Steve Hollowell defeated inbumbent Rep. Marshall Wright, D-Forrest City.
—Republican Aaron Pilkington won an open race for the seat now held by Rep. Betty Overbey, D-Lamar.
—Republican Sonia Barker won an open race for the seat now held by Rep. John Baine, D-El Dorado.
—Republican Jimmy Gazaway won an open race for the seat now held by Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould.
—Republican Frances Cavenaugh defeated incumbent James Ratliff, D-Imboden.
—Republican Dave Wallace defeated incumbent Sen. Dave Burnett, D-Osceola
—Republican Trent Garner defeated incumbent Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan.
The day after the election, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw of Hermitage announced he was switching his affiliation from Democratic to Republican, bringing the GOP to control of 74 seats in the 100-member House. Republicans will control 26 seats in the 35-member Senate.
Having Trump at the top of the ticket clearly “didn’t hurt” for Republicans, according to Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University.
Bass said there was speculation before the election about the possibility of Trump hurting Republicans in down-ballot races across the country, but Arkansas’ demographics made the state a good fit for him.
“The kinds of voters who voters who supported Trump nationally are found in exceedingly large numbers in Arkansas,” Bass said. “We’ve got lots of rural voters; rural voters tuned out overwhelmingly (for Trump). We’ve got lots of working-class voters, they turned out overwhelmingly for Trump.”
Nationally, 67 percent of white voters without a college degree voted for Trump and just 28 percent voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to the Pew Research Center. Arkansas typically appears at or near the bottom in rankings of states by level of educational attainment.
Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said it is difficult to say whether the Republican gains would have been any less without Trump at the top of the ticket. She noted that Republicans won control of the Legislature in 2012 — for the first time since Reconstruction — and increased their hold on it 2014.
“That’s a process that’s been happening for three election cycles,” she said.
Parry said viewing the Republican gains as fallout from having Trump as the party’s presidential nominee is “an interesting and not implausible narrative for the Republcian Party, but it’s a pretty different narrative from the one previous to the election.”
As is often the case in politics, after election results are in, “narratives change,” she said.