5 things to know about Arkansas' midterm elections
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - With a U.S. Senate race that could help determine which party controls that chamber and a race for an open governor's seat, Arkansas has no shortage of drama in its midterm election.
Republicans view the election as a chance to complete their takeover of the state's top offices, while Democrats want to keep a foothold in an otherwise GOP-friendly South. Beyond the races at the top of the ballot, the election also features plenty of interesting matchups.
Here are the races to watch in this year's election:
This is the race that's dominating the television airwaves in Arkansas, and for good reason. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, and they view Arkansas as crucial to that goal.
The race pits two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor against freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who represents south Arkansas' 4th Congressional District. The race is already one of the most heated and expensive in the country, with the candidates and outside groups combining to spend more than $20 million on the race.
Pryor has been touting himself as a moderate Democrat who's been able to work with both parties, while trying to cast Cotton as someone beholden to outside conservative groups. Cotton has been accusing Pryor of being too closely allied with President Barack Obama and national Democrats.
The open race for Arkansas' governorship is another nationally watched campaign, with Republicans identifying the post as their top pickup opportunity in the country.
Democrat Mike Ross and Republican Asa Hutchinson are both ex-congressmen hoping to succeed Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. The GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature, and Republicans hope to complete a sweep of state offices with a win here.
The two rivals have competing tax cut plans. Ross has proposed gradually reducing individual income taxes by $575 million, but has stopped short of giving a specific timetable. Hutchinson is also proposing to gradually cut the income tax, starting with a $100 million cut for middle class workers in his first year.
Republicans control all four of the state's congressional seats, and Democrats hope to end the shut-out in the November election.
Much of the focus has been on two open House seats - central Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District and the 4th District in southern and western Arkansas. In the 2nd, Democrat Pat Hays, the former mayor of North Little Rock, is running against Republican banking executive French Hill. The seat was vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who's seeking the lieutenant governor's post.
Republican state Rep. Bruce Westerman is running against Democrat James Lee Witt, who headed FEMA under former President Clinton, for the 4th District. The two are running for the seat held by Cotton.
In east Arkansas' 1st Congressional District, Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson is trying to unseat two-term Republican Rep. Rick Crawford. U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, the Republican representing northwest Arkansas's 3rd District, does not have a Democratic challenger.
Republicans made history when they won control of the Arkansas House and Senate in 2012, the first time they've controlled the Legislature since Reconstruction. Republicans are assured a majority in the Senate, but Democrats have a chance to reclaim the 100-member House.
The fight for control of the Legislature may affect the future of the state's "private option" Medicaid expansion. Under the plan, approved as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health overhaul, Arkansas is using federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. The plan has sharply divided Republicans, while Democrats support it. The program will need three-fourths support of the House and Senate to survive another year.
Democrats hold three of the state's constitutional offices, while Republicans hold two.
The highest profile race of the undercard is for lieutenant governor, which pits Griffin against former state Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter, the Democrat. They're running to succeed former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who resigned earlier this year over ethics violations.
The attorney general's race pits Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel against former Republican National Committee lawyer Leslie Rutledge. The current attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.
The bid for the constitutional offices has a broader implication. The party that controls the most is considered the majority, meaning they'll hold a majority of each county's election commission seats.Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.