LITTLE ROCK — Labor Day was once the unofficial kickoff for fall presidential campaigns and a time when state and local candidates turned their races into the home stretch for the November general election.
Today, political rallies on the last national holiday of the summer aren’t as big as they once were and politicians aren’t working the crowds like they once did.
Tom Cotton, the Republican nominee for the 4th District congressional seat, planned to campaign some over the holiday weekend but has set aside today to help his father on the family farm in Dardanelle.
“He needs some help moving cattle and fixing some fences, and that’s not going to be easy (for me) to do that over the last eight weeks of the campaign,” Cotton said late last week.
His Democratic opponent, state Sen. Gene Jeffress of Louann, planned to attend a political event in Texarkana today after spending what he called a low-key weekend.
“My campaign kicked off some 30,000 miles ago,” Jeffress said, adding that he has been on the road non-stop since winning the party primary in May. “Our campaign is shoe leather, driving around and seeing folks.”
Hall Bass, political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, said the importance of Labor Day to candidates has been on the decline for decades.
“Keep in mind, up until, I guess it was the early 1970s, we didn’t have the Democratic Party primary until August,” Bass said, which meant that basically set the stage for a fall kickoff, in an admittedly one-party state.”
When the primaries were moved to the spring, the campaigns for the general election began much earlier, minimizing the impact of Labor Day on the elections, he said.
Bass also noted that the national party conventions are being held later and later in the year — the Republican convention was last week and the Democratic convention is this week — making the Labor Day weekend an opportunity for candidates to rest before the big fall push.
“The earlier primaries and the later conventions have really shifted the focus away from Labor Day here,” he said.
While candidates might not be flocking to county fairs, city parades and community cookouts on Labor Day as they once did, the events are still happening and still attract political contenders.
The Central Arkansas Labor Council is celebrating the holiday with a cookout at the Governor’s Mansion.
Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, who locked in a hotly contested state Senate race against Rep. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, said he might stop by the council’s cookout “to eat a hot dog, or something,” but most of the weekend and Monday will be spent campaigning.
“This is traditionally when, in our last campaigns, we start looking forward to getting out and meeting with folks,” he said, adding he and volunteers plans to walk door-door in neighborhoods in North Little Rock, Maumelle, Sherwood and Jacksonville, knocking on doors and meeting voters.
“We will be concentrated on visiting with the voters in the district,” he said.
English also said she will spend the Labor Day campaigning.
“We’ll be knocking on doors,” she said.
In northeastern Arkansas, the city of Rector in Clay County is having its 73rd annual Labor Day picnic and 1st District Congressman Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, along with his Democratic opponent, Scott Ellington of Jonesboro, plan to attend. A number of other politicians seeking local or state offices are expected to be on hand and give speeches.
Ellington’s schedule on Monday also includes stops at the Tri County Fair in Marvell and the Green County Fair in Paragould.