2 Dem runoffs in Ark. House races; Cotton wins GOP

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – An Army veteran locked down the Republican nomination for an open congressional seat in southern Arkansas while Democratic candidates for that seat and one in eastern Arkansas were headed to a runoff election next month.

The congressional matchups dominated voting Tuesday, and turnout was light as Arkansas lacked any major statewide races. Voters also cast ballots in 33 contested state legislative primaries and a state Supreme Court race. Presumptive nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama won the state’s mostly meaningless presidential primaries.

Retiring Democratic Congressman Mike Ross’ departure after 12 years representing south Arkansas’ 4th District drew a crowd of candidates from both parties seeking the incumbent Democrat’s seat.

Tom Cotton, an Army veteran and management consultant, defeated Beth Anne Rankin and John Cowart by a large enough margin to avoid a June 12 runoff. Rankin was the party’s nominee in southern Arkansas in 2010.

“I cannot tell you and express into words what an honor it has been to be a candidate for the United States Congress and to apply for the job really to represent the 4th Congressional District of Arkansas that I love, that I’ve got deep roots here and that I cherish,” Rankin said in a concession speech.

In the Democratic primary, state Sen. Gene Jeffress and Q. Byrum Hurst headed to the runoff after neither was able to collect 50 percent of the vote. D.C. Morrison was also in the race. National Republicans targeted Hurst nearly daily, believing he would be the party’s nominee in the fall.

In east Arkansas’ 1st District, prosecutor Scott Ellington was unable to exceed the 50 percent mark necessary to avoid a runoff with state Rep. Clark Hall. Economist Gary Latanich trailed in the race.

Back in southern Arkansas, Jimmy Witt of Dardanelle voted for hometown candidate Cotton in the GOP primary but said he was sorry to see Ross go.

“You hate to see somebody that’s been successful and is obviously pretty well liked get out of politics,” said Witt, a lifelong Democrat. “But with Tom, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Cotton drew 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.

Cowart, a Marine veteran and Texarkana police officer, also vied for the party’s nod.

Hurst, a Hot Springs attorney, led in fundraising but opponents Jeffress and Morrison have name recognition that made up for their cash-strapped operations.

The 1st District race in eastern Arkansas came down to a contest between state Hall and Ellington, who was a few hundred votes shy of winning the election outright.

“It’s amazing to have been able to show up and get those numbers,” Ellington said. “My concern is trying to get those people who voted for me to get them to vote again.”

Hall, who was the favorite of the state’s top Democrats, outpaced his opponents in fundraising and is the only candidate airing television spots around the district. He also pumped more than $80,000 of his own money into the campaign.

“It’s a lot of money, but I have no regrets,” he said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”

Voters cast ballots in 22 contested state House primaries and 11 contested Senate primaries. In a nonpartisan judicial race, state Appeals Court Judge Jo Hart defeated colleague Raymond Abramson for a spot on the state Supreme Court.

Arkansas voters also were able to cast ballots in the presidential primaries, although those races have largely been decided. Even though the state’s Democratic Party said last week it wouldn’t give President Barack Obama’s challenger any of its delegates to the party’s national convention, many opted to vote for Tennessee attorney John Wolfe anyway as a protest vote.

“That’s a wasted vote,” retiree Bill Fountain said after casting his ballot in Little Rock. “I guess you just do it in opposition.”

Obama defeated Wolfe by a 3-2 margin. Wolfe won 36 counties. Romney outpolled his challengers by a better than 2-to-1 margin combined. He won every country.

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.

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

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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