Rutledge captures GOP primary bid in Attorney General race

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

The long and bitter battle for the Republican nomination for Arkansas attorney general has come to an end, with Leslie Rutledge pulling out a victory against challenger David Sterling.

Unofficial election results late Tuesday (June 10) show Rutledge won with 59.07% of the vote to Sterling's 40.93%.

Being the only major race on the runoff ballot, turnout was predictably low for the election required under state law after neither Rutledge or Sterling were able to garner 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff in the May 20 primary. Rutledge came closest, with 47% of the vote to Sterling's 39%.

In the final days of the campaign, the election turned nasty with both candidates going after the other's Republican bonafides.

Talk Business, a content partner with The City Wire, reported June 2 about Sterling's charges that Rutledge had voted in Democratic primaries from 1998 through 2008 and had not voted in Arkansas elections during both 2010 and 2012. He also pointed out a political donation by Rutledge to the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Talk Business reports that Rutledge fired back, saying Sterling represented in his legal practice a company peddling pornography, an act she says contradicts his Christian and family values platform which she said should be troubling for someone seeking office to oversee a division dedicated to Internet predators.

The race also saw big spending by outside groups in support of Sterling.

A June 5 mailer by the Judicial Crisis Network is just one example of an outside group that involved itself in the race, with the JCN sending out an "Arkansas Conservative Attorney General Guide" that compares and contrasts seven "principals" between the two candidates, Talk Business reported.

The direct mail piece went after Rutledge on many topics, including the charge that she was not a supporter of a stand your ground law. But she hit back, saying it was not true and touting her rating by the NRA, as well as revealing that she is a concealed carry license holder.

In the end, the attacks were not enough to defeat Rutledge, who spoke with Talk Business after her victory.

“Although we were outspent 10-to-1, our grassroots hard work prevailed and Arkansans were not fooled by D.C. beltway bandits,” Rutledge tells Talk Business & Politics. “As Attorney General, I will always stand my ground to protect Arkansans.”

In a telephone call to The City Wire, Sterling said he was "fine" with the outcome of the election even though he did not pull out a win.

"It's fine with me. I did everything I could. I don't have any regrets about what I did or didn't do in the race. I feel like I left it all out on the field. I turned it over to God 16 months ago to follow his will and I feel like I've done that the last 16 months. I put it all in His hands and I will do that tonight and see what he has in store for me."

Sterling was not ready to endorse Rutledge's run for attorney general Tuesday, but he said conversations would take place between the two about an endorsement.

"She and I will talk about that later this week," he said. "I just need to process what has gone on the last few weeks and the election results."

The Republican Attorney Generals Association Chairman Alan Wilson also congratulated Rutledge, who tied Democratic Sen. Nate Steel of Nashville, his party's nominee, to the Obama administration.

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“I want to congratulate Leslie Rutledge on securing the Republican Party nomination in tonight’s Arkansas Runoff Election for attorney general.  I am looking forward to joining Leslie on the campaign trail this year to help him become the first Republican attorney general in Arkansas history," Wilson said. “Voters in Arkansas have a clear choice in this year’s election. They can either vote for Leslie, who will be a great advocate for states’ rights and a strong protector of the Constitution, or vote for Democrat Nate Steel, who will serve as a rubber-stamp for Obama and Eric Holder’s liberal agenda. Leslie will fight against an overreaching Federal government and stand up for all Arkansans. I have all the confidence that Leslie will make a great Attorney General for the people of Arkansas.”

Another runoff of note on the far edge of Northwest Arkansas involved Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison, and opponent Scott Flippo, who were fighting for the District 17 Senate seat. Burris, who is term limited in the Arkansas House, lost with 47.71% of the vote to Flippo's 52.29%.

The only local runoff was for Benton County Justice of the Peace District 1. Republican Ron Easley beat opponent Mike McKenzie 49 votes to 34.

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