A chink in the ar­mor?

Sur­vey shows open­ing, how­ever slight, in con­gres­sional races

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Brenda Blagg

Apoll ques­tion posed re­cently to Arkansas vot­ers in­di­cated only 36 per­cent of them would def­i­nitely re-elect their re­spec­tive con­gress­men.

Con­versely, 58 per­cent of the poll’s re­spon­dents said they were “open” to an­other can­di­date.

Just what do the num­bers, which are well be­yond the poll’s mar­gin of er­ror, sug­gest?

In­cum­bents may not have an ab­so­lute lock on the state’s four seats in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the 2018 mid-term elec­tions.

We’re talk­ing about U.S. Reps. Rick Craw­ford, R-Jones­boro, in the 1st Con­gres­sional District; French Hill. R-Lit­tle Rock, in the 2nd District; Steve Wo­mack, R-Rogers, in the 3rd District; and Bruce Wester­man, R-Hot Springs, in the 4th District.

Given the mar­gins by which these Repub­li­can in­cum­bents won elec­tion in 2016, they would normally be ex­pected to glide to re-elec­tion. Each won by no less than 58 per­cent of the general elec­tion vote and three of them won by more than 74 per­cent.

That was 2016. The new polling is about what could hap­pen in 2018 after two years of a Trump pres­i­dency and its tum­ble-down ef­fect on the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Con­gress.

Re­mem­ber, too, that this re­cent poll was con­ducted dur­ing the U.S. Se­nate’s intense de­bate over re­peal and re­place­ment of the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The health care law, bet­ter known as Oba­macare, re­mains in place. No­tably, all four of Arkansas’ con­gress­men voted for a House plan to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare. But the Se­nate’s de­feat of an al­ter­na­tive has stalled any re­place­ment for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

All of these fac­tors weigh in on pub­lic per­spec­tives and how, on a given day, re­spon­dents might an­swer poll­sters.

This par­tic­u­lar poll ques­tion about Arkansans’ will­ing­ness to re-elect their con­gress­men was part of a statewide sur­vey con­ducted by Talk Busi­ness & Pol­i­tics and Hen­drix Col­lege on July 20 among 511 Arkansas vot­ers. The mar­gin of er­ror, with that sam­ple size, was plus or mi­nus 4.3 per­cent.

Im­por­tantly, the ques­tion didn’t name Arkansas’ four sit­ting con­gress­men. But the an­swers nonethe­less sug­gest po­ten­tial re-elec­tion prob­lems in 2018 for the men who now hold the seats. Here’s how the ques­tion was posed: “Your cur­rent con­gress­man is Repub­li­can and is up for re-elec­tion in 2018. If the elec­tion were to­day, would you vote to re-elect him or are you open to an­other can­di­date?”

A stag­ger­ing 58 per­cent did say they were open to some­one else, en­cour­ag­ing Democrats and likely some other Repub­li­cans as well to con­sider run­ning against one or an­other of these in­cum­bents.

A few chal­lengers have al­ready said they will run or are think­ing about it. But they’ll need a lot more than these poll re­sults to suc­ceed.

Again, the sit­ting con­gress­men weren’t even named in the poll ques­tion. That was nec­es­sary to pre­serve the statewide sam­ple; but it doesn’t gauge name recog­ni­tion or any of the other ben­e­fits of in­cum­bency.

Fac­tor those ben­e­fits — in­clud­ing ac­cess to the ma­jor­ity party’s fundrais­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional skill — into the equa­tion and the chances of up­set­ting these Arkansas in­cum­bents looks as daunt­ing as ever.

That doesn’t mean, how­ever, that up­sets are im­pos­si­ble in a na­tional po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that seems only to worsen ev­ery day.

Those 2018 elec­tions are still a long way away.

Brenda Blagg is a free­lance colum­nist and long­time jour­nal­ist in North­west Arkansas. Email her at bren­da­jblagg@gmail.com.

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