Arkansas, long-time Democratic fortress of the South, to raise Republican flag

Jonathan Strong Jonathan Strong, 27, is a reporter for the Daily Caller covering Congress. Previously, he was a reporter for Inside EPA where he wrote about environmental regulation in great detail, and before that a staffer for Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA). Strong graduated from Wheaton College (IL) with a degree in political science in 2006. He is a huge fan of and season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals hockey team. Strong and his wife reside in Arlington.
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One sign of the strength of the 2010 Republican wave is in Arkansas, where the GOP is likely to flip the last Democratic stronghold in the South.

Of the state’s four House districts, the GOP is poised to take two from Democrats to form a three-to-one majority.

That includes Arkansas’s first district — a district that has not voted in a Republican since reconstruction — where Republican candidate Rick Crawford was leading by 16 points in a mid-August poll.

Though former President Bill Clinton recently returned to Arkansas to help her ailing candidacy, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln is a dead woman walking. Polls show Republican Rep. John Boozman leading by almost 30 points on average.

The GOP is also poised to make significant gains in the state legislature, too, Arkansas sources say.

In the 2008 presidential election, Arkansas voted for Sen. John McCain over President Obama by a margin of 59-39 percent, a higher margin than McCain enjoyed in his home state of Arizona. Still, Arkansas has long-favored Democratic congressmen.

A Bible of political information, the “Almanac of American Politics,” called Arkansas “one of the most Democratic states” in its 2008 edition, explaining the state’s tradition of producing “more than its share of…talented and accomplished” Democratic pols.

One Arkansas GOP operative in the state explained: “that’s the tradition. Everybody just votes like that ‘cause their parents and grandparents did.”

Even Rep. Mike Ross, a leader of the conservative Blue Dog coalition of House Democrats, may face a scare. One Republican strategist who’s been watching the races in Arkansas said he thought Ross would survive but the race would be close.

In the race for governor, Republican Jim Keet is behind. But that he’s even in striking distance – polls show him trailing Gov. Mike Beebe by 10-20 points – is a testament to how dismal the cycle is for Dems. Beebe entered the campaign with a job approval rating over 75 percent.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Keet said, “I’ve been around politics now since the mid-1980s when I was supporting other candidates … but I have never in my travels across the state heard as many people say that, although they have always been a Democrat, that this year they are voting a straight Republican ticket, or they’re voting for me, or they’re voting for a particular Republican candidate. I’ve never heard that as loudly and clearly before.”

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, compared Arkansas to states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, where Obama is particularly unpopular.

“States with a large proportion of white, working class voters are demonstrating a strong anti-Obama effect,” Sabato said. Although Obama’s unpopularity didn’t hurt Democrats downballot of Obama too much in 2008, “over the past two years voters’ dislike of Obama and his policies have deepened and broadened in states like Arkansas.”

NEXT: Keet trying to tie Beebe to ObamaCare
In his race, Keet is trying to tie Gov. Beebe to ObamaCare. Keet said that if the popular Beebe had fought hard against the president’s health care law, it’s unlikely Ross and Lincoln would have played the crucial roles they did in ensuring its passage.

“Gov. Beebe was the only governor in America that might have changed the course of history,” Keet said. “Had he taken his case directly to the people of Arkansas, I think Blanche Lincoln may not have cast the decisive vote on Christmas Eve of last year, and perhaps Mike Ross would not have helped it out of committee.”

For his part, Beebe’s administration has declined to support 21 other states that are fighting ObamaCare in court, arguing many of its provisions are unconstitutional.

Beebe likened the ObamaCare suit to 1957 when a previous Arkansas governor refused to integrate the state’s schools. “They tried it here in Arkansas in ’57 and it didn’t work,” Beebe said. Keet called the comment “an outrage” and noted the situations are different: ObamaCare “not yet been tested constitutionally,” he said.

Sabato expected Beebe to win. “Even popular Democrats like Gov. Beebe aren’t doing as well, though Beebe should win handily,” he said.