The two Republicans so far that have said they will seek their party’s nomination for governor are Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Those who have announced they will seek the Democratic nomination for governor include: Dr. Anthony Bland, a teacher; Dr. Chris Jones, a nuclear engineer; James Richard Russell III, a businessman; and Supha Xayprasith-Mays, a businesswoman.
Ricky Dale Harrington Jr., a Christian missionary and prison chaplain, is running as a Libertarian for governor. He received 33.3 percent of the vote in his run for U.S. Senate against Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton last year. Harrington won more votes than any Libertarian candidate has ever won in a Senate election in this country, but there was no Democrat in the race.
Then there’s Jim Hendren, state senator and former Republican who left the Party in February to become an independent. A nephew of Asa Hutchinson, he may run for governor as an independent.
The election is 17 months away. So many things can happen between now and then, and we shouldn’t be surprised if some things are surprising.
Arkansas hasn’t had many close gubernatorial elections. The closest in the last 40 years was when Paragould’s Jimme Lou Fisher, Arkansas State Treasurer, was the Democratic challenger of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2002. Huckabee won with 53.01 percent of the vote. Fisher earned 46.95 percent of the vote, an increase of almost 9 percent for the party over the previous election, while Huckabee lost nearly 7 percent of the vote from the 1998 election. Fisher won 33 of Arkansas’ 75 counties.
The Huckabee-Fisher race was the closest since 1980, when Republican Frank White beat Democratic Gov. Bill Clinton with 51.93 percent of the vote to 48.07 percent. And that was the closest race since 1968, when Republican Winthrop Rockefeller beat Democrat Marion H. Crank with 52.43 percent of the vote to 47.57 percent.
The greatest win in an Arkansas governor’s race was when incumbent Gov. Homer Martin Adkins, a Democrat, won with 100 percent of the vote in 1942. He was unopposed. No one was too interested in elections then because of World War II. National voter turnout in the mid-term federal elections that year was only 33.9 percent.
Adkins served all through the war years, from 1941 to 1945. According to the National Governor’s Association, during his tenure, the state treasury surplus rose from $21 million to $45 million, the first workmen’s compensation commission was appointed, and the federal government spent over $300 million on defense plants and military installations in Arkansas during World War II. They leave out the fact that Adkins was a raging racist, and a Ku Klux Klan member, but that information is easily found elsewhere, including The Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
The most votes a third party candidate has gained in an Arkansas governor’s race went to another Homer – Josiah Homer Blount – an African American in the governor’s race of 1920. Wallace Townsend was the Republican nominee. Thomas C. McRae was the Democratic nominee, and J.H. Blount was listed on the ballot as a “Negro Independent.”
McRae won with 65.02 percent of the vote. Townsend received 24.38 percent. Blount received 8.22 percent. Sam Butler, who ran as a Socialist, received 2.38 percent of the vote.
Blount, who was born in slavery in Georgia in 1860, was an educator and farmer, and was chairman of the St. Francis County Republican Committee when he ran for governor, but the Arkansas Secretary of State would not allow him to run as a Republican.
And this is interesting: Earlier in Arkansas’ history, between 1860 and 1901, we had eight governors who had fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and four governors who had fought for the Union. That’s something to think about as election time closes in, and candidates try to tell us how we’ve never been more divided.