It seems like you can't go anywhere these days without hearing about the race for U.S. Senate, pitting Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, barely seven months into his first term as 4th District Congressman, against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.
Or the race for governor, which has seen three different Democrats enter the race, only to see former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross be the last man standing, at least for now. On the right, three candidates are still in the race, though members of the general public could be forgiven for not knowing a race was even underway as former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson is the only Republican with statewide name recognition competing for the nomination.
While much attention has been placed on the statewide races, or the dominos that have fallen through the ranks of the Republican Party as a result of Cotton's decision to run for Senate, lost in the shuffle has been the candidates that have already announced for state house and state senate races in the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas, along with the future plans of term-limited members of the general assembly. (Link here for information on the 24 Arkansas House districts and nine Senate districts that cover the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas areas.)
FORT SMITH AREA
Among those to be term limited is Rep. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, who represents District 21. In an interview with The City Wire last week, Rice said he does not have plans to seek a state Senate seat, though he admitted that the old cliché "never say never" seemed to apply to his political career.
"When I ran in 2008, they called me the third day of filing after it opened and I told them absolutely no," he said, adding with a laugh that he found himself filing his paperwork to run 48 hours later. "I am a wild card to do anything. It's not in my plans right now, but you never know. I have not been out campaigning and not politicking other than trying to take care of some stuff in the interim. But I don't foresee running for anything in this next election cycle."
Thus far, no candidates have come forward to announce plans to run for Rice's seat.
In district 77, term limited Rep. Stephanie Malone, R-Fort Smith, has confirmed that she has no plans to run for higher office, either, instead focusing on her position at the Fort Chaffee Development Authority, where she manages communications.
Fort Smith City Director Philip Merry had flirted with running to replace her, though he has said he is now contemplating a run for Fort Smith Mayor.
Sources have confirmed that Republican Danny Aldridge, a member of the Sebastian County Quorum Court, has been contemplating a bid for Malone's seat, as well, though he has privately told political backers that he will not make a decision on a run for at least another two weeks.
NORTHWEST ARKANSAS SHIFTS
One House member who is staying put, even though many of his colleagues are jumping into races for Congress or other higher profile offices, is Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, who represents District 81. So far, no challengers have come forward to oppose him.
The same is true of District 78 Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith; District 85 Rep. David Whitaker, D-Fayetteville; District 86 Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville; and District 4 Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville. All four were confirmed to seek re-election, according to Democratic Party of Arkansas Executive Director Candace Martin.
While the aforementioned representatives and senator do not yet have competitors, a competitive primary already seems to be underway in district 87, where Republicans Robin Lundstrum and Lucas Roebuck are competing to replace Rep. Jonathan Barnett, R-Siloam Springs. Lundstrum was the first candidate in the state to announce in January and now her Republican opponent is literally trying to keep up the pace by starting a different type of race to raise the profile of his campaign.
"We need to stop government from intruding on personal freedoms. Some believe government should be responsible for personal health, telling you how much soda you are allowed to drink, and so on. Instead of relying on government, I believe we need to encourage personal responsibility. The running team is that belief in action," Roebuck said, adding that he and supporters would compete in numerous races throughout the campaign.
One seat that is wide open, but not due to term limits, is the district 84 seat held by Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville. Collins recently announced a run for lieutenant governor. While no candidates have officially entered the race, Democratic party insiders have confirmed that Fayetteville Alderman Justin Tennant has been approached by leaders in the party to run for the seat that encompasses parts of north and east Fayetteville, along with rural parts of Washington County.
Tennant, the son-in-law of Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Clark, would be able to mount a formidable campaign should he choose to run, being well connected as a member of the Walton Arts Center, Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, Northwest Arkansas Young Professions and as a board member at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
But should Tennant forgo an election and no other Democrat jumps in, Fayetteville Alderman Adella Gray, who lost to Collins in the 2012 election, has told members of the Washington County Democratic Party that she would run again.
THE REPUBLICAN PUSH
And while the Democratic bench has not yet filled in, Republicans are rapidly adding their names to the list of candidates, with Communications Director David Ray of the Republican Party of Arkansas confirming the following candidates in various Northwest Arkansas house races:
• House District 71: Ken Henderson
• House District 76: Bobby Altes and Matt Pitsch
• House District 90: Jana Della Rosa and Mike Whitmore
• House District 92: Kurt Maddox and Kim Hendren
• House District 94: Rob Dothit
• House District 96: Carlos Chicas and Damon Wallace
• House District 98: Jeff Bogg
• House District 100: Nelda Speaks
The only candidate to not be confirmed by Ray was Dane Zimmerman, who previously announced his primary challenge against Rep. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, on July 1. Since announcing, Zimmerman has remained quiet on his platform and why he is challenging Scott, only to say that the district needs a representative with energy.
With six Republican primaries already announced nine months from the primary in May, one thing is for sure - while a lot of attention will be focused on the bigger federal and statewide races, there will not be a lack of action in the races to fill the state capitol in Little Rock next year.