Tea Party Republican John Cooper’s victory over Democrat Steve Rockwell in a special state Senate race in the Jonesboro area yesterday — by a decisive 57-43 margin — means many things, none of them good for people on the Democratic side of the political aisle.
* Victory in a district long held by Democrats has to be viewed as strong further evidence of an organic shift in Arkansas politics from historic Democratic voting patterns for local offices.
* Running against President Obama is as potent a strategy as it was in 2012 and 2010.
* Gov. Mike Beebe has no coattails.
* Anyone who thinks the Republican Southern strategy of playing on racial fears and prejudices isn’t part of the winning equation isn’t paying attention.
* The continuation of the private option version of Obama’s Medicaid expansion in Arkansas is in deep peril. The one-vote Senate margin was erased by Cooper’s election to succeed Bookout, who supported the measure. At least one other pro-Obamacare voter, Sen. Bruce “Fireball” Holland, is being challenged by an anti-Obamacare voter, Rep. Terry Rice, in a Republican primary. Other Republicans are undoubtedly nervous in the coming fiscal session about giving potential Tea Party primary opponents a political club, amply evidenced by Cooper’s victory.
* Cooper’s victory signifies a significant reactionary segment in the pro-Republican majority. The business of Jonesboro is business. Rockwell is a veteran businessman. Many business interests, particularly the huge health care industry, spoke of the damage that will be done if Cooper’s vote upends the private option and massive state budget cutting must follow. Didn’t matter. Nor did a personal campaign finance advantage and a vigorous get out the vote campaign by young Democrats.
* State legislative races have been nationalized and it’s an evil portent. The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee, a national organization, took some of the credit for the victory. It’s one of uncountable deep-pocket funded independent political efforts aimed at producing Republican hegemony from the state houses of America to the White House. We’ll see them in other Arkansas races this year.
* Rockwell defeated more conservative opponents in the Democratic primary. Given the size of Cooper’s victory and the depth of Obama hatred, it might not have mattered, but Rockwell’s centrist views on social issues — pro-choice and not ready to beat up on gay people — also were fodder for Republican attacks.