There is just one state legislative runoff election in Arkansas on Tuesday, in State House district #88 in the northwestern part of the state (Fayetteville). When the state’s Republican voters went to the polls on March 1st, only 3 state legislative primaries featured more than two candidates, and in the other two, the winning candidate received more than 50% of the vote.
This is an open-seat race because incumbent Rep. Lance Eads (R) ran for, and won, the GOP primary for an Arkansas State Senate seat (SD #7). Since no Democratic candidate filed in this solidly-Republican district, the winner of Tuesday’s runoff will become the new State Representative next year. The first-place finisher, Clint Penzo, is a realtor and owner of a roofing company. His runoff opponent is Isaac Foley, who is just 24 years old and is the former political director for the State Republican Party.
With so few races in the state needing runoffs (there are a handful of judicial races in other parts of the state), this contest is the only one on the ballot here. And it comes just three weeks after the state’s participation in the high-profile “SEC” presidential primary.
Here are the results:
How did this district vote in the GOP Presidential Primary, held the same day?
Although Donald Trump narrowly defeated Sen. Ted Cruz statewide in Arkansas, HD #88 actually favored Sen. Marco Rubio:
Interestingly, support in HD #88 for Mr. Trump and Sen. Rubio essentially “flipped” as compared to the statewide numbers.
Did Mr. Trump’s presence on the ballot drive turnout in any particular precincts?
I analyzed the major precincts in HD #88, which I defined as those in which 100 votes or more were cast on March 1st. This removed smaller precincts which would have tended to show either very high or very low percentages for things like voter turnout, etc. The 9 precincts I analyzed represent over 95% of the votes cast in the Primary.
Anyway, I found that those precincts which saw the highest turnout actually supported Mr. Trump either at, or below, the level of the district at large:
This suggests that the composition of the electorate wasn’t necessarily driven by enthusiasm in voting for Mr. Trump in the Presidential race.
So, how was voter turnout as compared with 2014?
Here is a breakdown of voter turnout by major precinct for the March 1st primary, overlaid against both the 2014 Republican primary and 2014 Republican Primary Runoff. The 2014 primary in Arkansas was held in May, and while there were statewide races for U.S. Senate, Governor, and other executive offices, the only significant GOP contest was the three-way race for Attorney General, which was eventually decided in the June runoff:
Were either of the two runoff candidates particularly strong in certain areas of the district compared to others?
Only to a small extent, as shown in the table of voting results for those 9 major precincts:
Mr. Foley clearly ran best in Springdale Precincts #3 and #4, which are in the northern part of the district. He ran about 100 votes better there. However, Mr. Penzo won the four largest precincts by 20-to-50 vote margins.
What about the candidate who didn’t make the runoff?
Philip Humbard, who is President of a civil engineering firm, received about 25% of the vote in finishing third. He ran 3rd in all but 2 precincts. The two locations where he received the most votes, Springdale Precincts #17 and #11, were won by Mr. Penzo. I have not seen any media reports of Mr. Humbard endorsing either candidate in the runoff. I reached out to him to confirm this, but have yet to hear back.
What about campaign contributions?
If you’ve visited this site before, you know that I have previously analyzed the addresses of campaign contributors in special elections to identify those engaged supporters who can help to drive voting in low-turnout elections (see examples from previous elections in Georgia, South Carolina, and Wisconsin).
I reviewed the campaign finance reports filed by Messrs. Foley and Penzo. Mr. Foley had 12 unique individual campaign contributors with addresses that had Zip Codes which were at least partly in HD #88. Most of those were in the “72762” Zip Code, which covers a fairly large area of Springdale. Mr. Penzo had only 4 unique individual contributors from Zip Codes within the district, also from 72762. However, he has generally self-funded his campaign, having loaned his campaign over $22,000, versus monetary donations of only $2,500.
Since hyper-local campaigns like this one are decided more by campaign organization than media advertisements, I’ve found that the candidate who has devoted supporters, who have donated money and are therefore likely to encourage friends and neighbors to actually get out to the polls, has an edge.
What will turnout be like?
Very, very small. As noted in the charts above, turnout in this district in 2014 for the Republican Primary Runoff for State Attorney General was only 5%. The County Election Commission expects participation on Tuesday to be even less, at 4% (as noted here).
After all this analysis, what will happen?
I ran a quick projection assuming the same relative vote proportion for each candidate as in the Primary, but using the precinct-by-precinct voter turnout rates from the 2014 GOP Runoff. It was close. Very close:
What is driving the slight victory for Mr. Penzo in this scenario is his strength in the largest precincts (Springdale #17 in the southeast and Springdale #11 in the west). What hurts Mr. Foley is the very low turnout in Springdale Precinct # 3, which had only a 2% voter participation rate in the 2014 Primary Runoff. While this seems very low, voter turnout in that precinct was the lowest in the district, both on March 1st and in the 2014 Republican Primary.
Are there any other factors which could impact this projection?
Yes, but they would seem to cancel each other out. Mr. Foley’s experience as Political Director for the State Republican Party suggests he is adept at campaign organization, which gives him an advantage in mobilizing his supporters to vote. On the other hand, it would seem to me that those voters in the district who backed Mr. Humbard in the primary more closely align generationally and professionally with Mr. Penzo.
I am most certain that voter participation will be extremely low, and thus, it is hard to have much confidence in any forecast. I honestly was looking for some underlying characteristic of the results from the Primary, either due to the Presidential race or precinct voting patterns, which when adjusted for would suggest that one candidate or the other had an advantage. I really don’t think a major such edge exists. If I had to pick, I would say I lean slightly towards believing that Mr. Penzo will win narrowly, primarily due to his strength in the larger precincts and the likelihood that he will get more votes from those who voted for Mr. Humbard three weeks ago. Even if Mr. Foley is able to double my forecasted turnout rate in Springdale Precinct #3 up to 4 percent, that would still only net him a handful of extra votes.