While I was away seeking (and finding) global warmth in the Dominican Republic, voters in Northeast Arkansas sent an ominous message to Democrats by overwhelmingly electing a Republican in a special State Senate election. The Republican, John Cooper, captured 57 percent of the vote to win a seat (District 21) that has never been held by a member of his party.
The race centered on the issue of whether to continue the Arkansas’ “private option” plan to expand Medicaid. Under a plan approved by the state legislature (Republicans were split, Democrats were in favor) and signed by Democratic governor Mike Beebe, Arkansas uses federal money to purchase private insurance for thousands of low-income residents now eligible for Medicaid thanks to Obamacare. Cooper, the Republican in the race, opposes the “private option;” his Democratic opponent Steve Rockwell supports it.
Cooper’s resounding win in a traditionally Democratic corner of the state is good news for Tom Cotton and bad news for Mark Pryor. It speaks not only to the dramatically declining fortunes of Democrats in Arkansas, but also to the unpopularity of anything related to Obamacare. Without Pryor’s vote, Obamacare would not have been enacted.
Nic Horton of The Arkansas Project offers additional context:
Keep in mind: this district includes two large regional hospitals that are supposedly going to be forced to shut their doors (one of which just opened a new $400 million facility) if Arkansas doesn’t keep its Medicaid expansion. This is a Senate district that had never elected a Republican — one that reliably sent moderate to liberal Democrats to Little Rock. This is a race in which Cooper was outspent more than 3-to-1. And despite all of that — despite the false claims that “people will die,” that we’ll “lose jobs,” and that all of this “free” federal money will be lost to other states — the voters said no.
Pryor has been a strong supporter of Arkansas’ private option, calling it a “national success story.” Tom has focused on what can be done in Washington, noting that “if we repeal Obamacare entirely, we don’t have to worry about it at the state level anymore.”
Even in the more moderate-leaning precincts of Arkansas, it looks like voters are very receptive to that message.