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Congressional candidates look to avoid runoff

Candidates for congressional seats in east and south Arkansas expressed confidence Monday that they can win their parties' nominations outright, but they also prepared for the possibility that a divided electorate could send the races into a three-week runoff campaign.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Candidates for congressional seats in east and south Arkansas expressed confidence Monday that they can win their parties' nominations outright, but they also prepared for the possibility that a divided electorate could send the races into a three-week runoff campaign.

Three Republicans and three Democrats seeking the 4th District in south Arkansas made their final appeals to voters ahead of Tuesday' primary election. Three Democrats are also running for the chance to challenge freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford in east Arkansas' 1st District. The top two finishers in each of the races head to a June 12 runoff if no one wins a majority.

With no major statewide primary and a presidential contest that's effectively over, most of the focus in Tuesday's election will be on the state's only Democrat-held congressional district. Republicans say they believe they can win the 4th District following Democratic Rep. Mike Ross' decision to not seek a seventh term.

Tom Cotton, the Army veteran who has raised more than $1 million in his bid for the GOP nomination for that seat, stopped short of predicting a flat-out victory over Beth Anne Rankin in the primary. Cotton has the backing of national conservative groups and leading Republicans, but Rankin enjoys widespread name recognition from her unsuccessful 2010 bid against Ross.

"That's been a real challenge," said Cotton, who campaigned Monday in his hometown of Dardanelle and had a scheduled stop later in the day in Hot Springs. "I think we're on the brink of victory and hopefully we'll get across the final line."

John Cowart, a Marine veteran and Texarkana police officer, is also seeking the party's nomination for the seat.

The race is more unsettled in the district's Democratic primary, where Hot Springs lawyer Q. Byrum Hurst has outpaced his rivals.

State. Sen. Gene Jeffress, who is also seeking the party's nod for the seat, has no paid campaign staff and doesn't even have a website but insists that his face-to-face campaigning and name recognition from the Legislature will boost his chances. D.C. Morrison, a Little Rock businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat two years ago, is also running.

"We've had the campaign we planned on having from the very beginning," said Jeffress, who said he expected the race to continue toward a runoff.

The 1st district race has come down to a contest between state Rep. Clark Hall and Prosecutor Scott Ellington, with economist Gary Latanich threatening to siphon enough votes from either to force a runoff. Hall has outpaced the two in fundraising and is the only candidate airing television spots around the district.

"I expect to be in the top two," Ellington said. "It just depends on whether there's enough votes around to get us into a runoff."

Hall said he was aiming for a victory and hoped to begin preparing for a general election contest against Crawford.

After a slow two-week early voting period, turnout was expected to fall far short of Secretary of State Mark Martin's initial prediction that 30 percent of the state's 1.5 million registered voters would cast ballots.

Voters will also cast ballots in 22 contested state House primaries and 11 contested Senate primaries. The ballot also features nonpartisan judicial races, with state Appeals Court judges Raymond Abramson and Jo Hart running for a spot on the state Supreme Court.

President Barack Obama will appear on the Democratic presidential primary ballot alongside Tennessee lawyer John Wolfe, but state party officials have said Wolfe won't be awarded any delegates because he hasn't complied with party rules. Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will appear on the ballot alongside former rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who has stopped campaigning, is also on the ballot.

Polls open at 7:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday and close at 7:30 p.m.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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