LITTLE ROCK — Largely unknown Democrat John Wolfe’s strong showing against President Obama in Arkansas’ Democratic primary primary illustrated the obvious — the president is unpopular in the state, even within his own party, political observers said Wednesday.
Obama received 58 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s presidential primary, but the focus a day later was the 42 percent that Wolfe, a lawyer from Chattanooga, Tenn., garnered against the president.
Wolfe won 36 of the state’s 75 counties in receiving nearly 68,000 of about 163,000 votes cast in the Democratic primary, according to unofficial results.
State Republican Party chairman Doyle Webb said Democrats should be concerned about the outcome, particularly since Republicans turned out in record numbers to vote in their own primaries. He was apparently downplaying any suggestion that Wolfe got a boost from Republicans crossing over in significant numbers to vote in the Democratic race.
State Democratic Party chairman Will Bond shrugged off the party’s presidential primary results.
“I don’t know that there’s anything to take from that except that everybody knows that (Obama) has not
been incredibly popular in Arkansas, the polling bares that out and the president’s campaign, I think, is aware of that,” Bond said, noting Obama was soundly defeated here by GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008.
Bond said Arkansas voters traditionally support Republicans for president and Democrats for state and local offices.
However, since Obama won the presidency, Republicans in Arkansas have captured a U.S. Senate seat, two U.S. House seats, three state constitutional offices, made historic gains in the state Legislature and have aspirations of gaining a legislative majority this year.
Hall Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, said Wolfe’s showing emphasized a known political reality.
“I think the cold, hard fact is Obama never had a strong base of support among the Arkansas Democratic primary electorate,” Bass said. “I think that the folks who voted against him this time have not so much lost faith, just never had faith with him.”
Hoyt Purvis, a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, noted that much of Wolfe’s success was in eastern Arkansas, where there were few Republican primaries.
“In those districts, many people voted in the Democratic primary who are not necessarily Democrats but local elections in those are still primarily Democratic,” he said. “There were a lot of people voting in there who clearly are not happy with Obama and they had a chance to express it by voting for somebody who they know absolutely nothing about.”
Bass said more Republicans would have voted in the Democratic primary if not for so many contested Republican primaries on the ballot.
Webb noted that a record number of Republicans, 151,000, voted in the Republican primary won by Mitt Romney with 68 percent of the vote. The previous record was 92,000 in 2002 when then-U.S. Tim Hutchinson defeated Jim Bob Dugger in a Republican U.S. Senate primary. Later that year, Hutchinson was defeated by Democrat Mark Pryor.