LITTLE ROCK — In an election year filled with hotly debated issues, a proposal to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage has so far drawn no organized opposition and has united the major-party candidates in Arkansas’ top two political races.

LITTLE ROCK — In an election year filled with hotly debated issues, a proposal to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage has so far drawn no organized opposition and has united the major-party candidates in Arkansas’ top two political races.


The proposed initiated act, which was certified last week for the Nov. 4 ballot, would raise the state’s minimum wage gradually from $6.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour by 2017. Democratic candidates for statewide offices have generally supported the measure and made it a campaign issue.


Late last week, Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton and Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson both said they planned to vote for the measure. Their statements came after months of heckling from their Democratic opponents, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor and Mike Ross, respectively.


Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University, said it appears that Cotton and Hutchinson "want to deflect any advantage the Democrats might get from a perceived difference between the parties and candidates on an issue that appears to be pretty popular in Arkansas."


A Talk Business-Hendrix College poll conducted in April found that 79 percent of likely Arkansas voters said they supported the minimum-wage proposal. The support extended across political lines, with 92 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independent voters saying they would vote "yes" if the election were held then.


Bass said Cotton and Hutchinson have not been enthusiastic about supporting the measure, but given its popularity, they likely have concluded it is risky to oppose and would prefer to go after Democrats on other issues — especially the unpopularity in Arkansas of Democratic President Barack Obama.


"Republicans perceive the landscape tilting generally in their favor, and they don’t want to sacrifice that advantage they perceive over something like this," Bass said.


Steve Copley, chairman of Give Arkansas a Raise Now, the group sponsoring the minimum-wage proposal, hinted Friday that GOP support is not limited to Cotton and Hutchinson.


"We’ve sent out a questionnaire," he said. "We’re not quite ready to lay out everybody because we’ve given them another week to come in, but yes, it does look like there’s Republican support. As we’ve said all along, this is about getting ordinary hard-working Arkansans a raise, and it’s certainly nonpartisan. Anybody that supports it, we welcome that."


Some Republican candidates have taken firm positions against the minimum-wage proposal, including 2nd District congressional candidate French Hill of Little Rock and 4th District congressional candidate state Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs. Both said Friday they continue to oppose the measure.


"I would support an Arkansas minimum wage increase if it didn’t negatively impact Arkansas jobs," Hill said in an email. "However, the Obama economy is squeezing the middle class, and we need to move beyond minimum wage jobs and start building careers, opportunities and real choices for all Arkansans."


Hill’s Democratic opponent, Patrick Henry Hays of North Little Rock, considers the proposal a "commonsense initiative that will put more money in the pockets of working families while growing the economy for everyone," according to his campaign website.


Westerman said Friday in an email that he opposes both the state ballot initiative and a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, which President Barack Obama supports. Cotton and Pryor both oppose the federal proposal.


"Nothing has changed my position on the ballot initiative or President Obama’s $10.10 minimum wage proposal; neither does anything to reduce the 9.4 percent unemployment in the 4th District," Westerman said. "In Congress, I will fight to help Arkansans move off the minimum wage into good-paying, long-term careers, as well as the 92 million Americans who have given up on the Obama economy, left the workforce, and make $0 an hour."


Westerman’s Democratic opponent, James Lee Witt of Dardanelle, supports the state ballot initiative because "a fair minimum wage is essential to guarantee all workers are reasonably compensated for their work," according to his campaign website.


Arkansas is one of four states that have a minimum wage lower than the federal minimum wage. Arkansas businesses with annual revenue of less than $500,000 are allowed to pay workers less than the federal minimum wage, with some exceptions.


In 2005, Give Arkansas a Raise Now proposed placing on the 2006 ballot an initiated act to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage but later dropped the proposal because the state Legislature enacted an increase — from $5.15 an hour to $6.25 an hour — during a special session in 2006.


The state’s minimum wage has not been raised since then. Legislative proposals to increase it failed in the 2009, 2011 and 2013 sessions.