|Updated: 5/22/2012 1:47 pm
||Published: 5/22/2012 8:21 am
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Candidates for Arkansas' only U.S. House seat held by a Democrat were hoping to win their parties' nominations outright Tuesday in the state's primary, capping an otherwise lackluster campaign season devoid of any major statewide matchups.
Three Republicans and three Democrats seeking the 4th District in south Arkansas were aiming to win enough votes to avoid a June 12 runoff. 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 race head to a runoff if no one wins a majority.
With no major statewide primary and a presidential contest that's effectively over, most of the focus Tuesday was on the congressional campaigns. Republicans say they believe they can win the 4th District this fall after Democratic Rep. Mike Ross' decision to not seek a seventh term.
The Republican race pits Army veteran and Dardanelle management consultant Tom Cotton against Beth Anne Rankin, a former Miss Arkansas who worked as an aide to former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Cotton has drawn the backing of conservative groups, including the Club for Growth, and Republican leaders, including Arizona Sen. John McCain. Rankin, the party's 2010 nominee for the seat, has badly trailed Cotton in fundraising but has Huckabee's support. She has portrayed the race as a battle between her and outside groups trying to influence the district.
John Cowart, a Marine veteran and Texarkana police officer, also vied for the party's nod.
The race is more unsettled in the district's Democratic primary, where Hot Springs lawyer Q. Byrum Hurst leads in fundraising, but faces state Sen. Gene Jeffress and Little Rock businessman D.C. Morrison. Both Jeffress and Morrison have name recognition that could make up for their cash-strapped operations.
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.
In Lonoke, Camille Bennett said she voted for Latanich because of his financial background.
"He (Latanich) teaches economics. I think that's an issue that's important to us, she said. "It was a tough choice."
Voters are casting 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.
In the Little Rock area, voters cast ballots in mostly local races, along with the presidential primary. Joshua Thomsen said he voted for President Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, noting that he also backed Obama in 2008.
"I am not entirely happy with what he is doing, but when we get to the fall election I will still vote for him," Thomsen said.
Also in Little Rock, Jack and Eileen Diers, both ministers, said they voted for Romney.
"I think we're going to do better economically with Mitt Romney," Jack Diers said. "He has experience as an executive and in finance."
Obama's only opponent on the Democratic ballot was Tennessee lawyer John Wolfe. Several voters said Tuesday they're supporting Wolfe - even though the state party said last week that Wolfe won't receive any delegates because he hasn't complied with party rules.
Retiree Bill Fountain said he voted for Wolfe even though he said Wolfe doesn't have a chance of winning the Democratic nomination.
"That's a wasted vote," he said after casting his ballot in Little Rock. "I guess you just do it in opposition."
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.
More than 89,000 people had cast ballots in the two-week early voting period, Martin's office said.
Spokesman Alex Reed said no problems had been reported Tuesday morning.
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