In elections, there’s the campaign, and beforehand there’s the campaign to raise money for the campaign. That’s where we are now, and in that campaign, $3.3 million vs. $1.5 million this past week qualified as a tie.
The $3 million is what Sen. John Boozman has raised in his re-election effort. The $1.5 million is what has been donated to support one of his opponents, Jake Bequette.
The revelations came courtesy of the candidates’ Federal Elections Commissions filings and through a report by the website Politico. Boozman reported that he had raised $3.3 million total. Bequette reported raising $533,543 in the most recent quarter, the first since he announced.
That’s an impressive amount for a challenger facing a two-term incumbent in a primary. Meanwhile, Politico reported this week that one donor, billionaire Dick Uihlein, had donated $1 million to the Arkansas Patriots Fund, a new super PAC supporting Bequette.
Super PACs, or independent expenditure-only committees, can receive unlimited political donations but can’t directly coordinate with the candidates. That $1 million will pay for a lot of ads attacking Boozman that Bequette can say he had nothing to do with.
Now we’ll look for answers to two questions: First, will that $1 million lead other wealthy conservative donors to support Bequette? And second, will it make any difference?
Boozman is seeking his third term and has never lost an election, going back to his days as a Rogers School Board member. He beat three other Republican candidates to be elected to the House of Representatives in 2001 and then won 53% in an eight-candidate Republican primary race to get elected to the Senate in 2010. His avoiding a runoff in that race is one of the more impressive political feats in recent Arkansas history. In 2016, he won 76% of the vote against his Republican Party primary challenger and 60% in the general election.
Boozman not only wins elections, but he wins kind of easily.
He and Bequette offer an interesting comparison and contrast. Boozman is 70; Bequette is 32. They both played football for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Boozman lettered as a backup offensive tackle in 1971 and 1972, while Bequette played from 2008-11 and was named all-SEC as a defensive end and played briefly for the New England Patriots. Boozman is a nice guy who does not make waves, so a lot of Arkansans don’t have strong opinions about him. Bequette talks tougher and is closer in style to Arkansas’ other senator, Tom Cotton. Bequette is more aligned with the current Republican Party’s allegiance to former President Donald Trump. Boozman hails from another era and is temperamentally not like Trump at all, but he already has Trump’s endorsement, and he’ll play that card whenever he needs to do so.
There are two other Republican candidates in the race: Hot Springs gun range owner Jan Morgan and Stuttgart pastor Health Loftis. Morgan, who talks even tougher than Bequette, won 30% of the vote challenging Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2018. She has decent name recognition and a base of supporters and raised almost $100,000 in the third quarter, so let’s not forget about her. Loftis has not raised much money.
The announced Democratic Party candidates include Dan Whitfield of Bella Vista. Natalie James of Little Rock and Jack Foster of Pine Bluff. Whitfield tried to run an independent campaign in 2020 but, hampered by the pandemic, couldn’t collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
The Libertarian Party has not yet selected a candidate.
Boozman finds himself in yet another multi-candidate Republican primary next May 24.
If he doesn’t win a majority of the vote, then he’ll face either Bequette or Morgan in a runoff, which he doesn’t want to do. Runoffs attract smaller turnouts and more motivated, partisan voters who might be more inclined to vote for tougher-talking candidates.
Either way, remember that Boozman has never lost a campaign. As for the campaign before the campaign, this past week, it was a tie.
Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist who focuses on Arkansas politics, and whose work appears in 16 Arkansas publications. He is a regular contributor to Talk Business and a frequent panelist on Arkansas PBS’s public affairs show, “Arkansas Week." He publishes a blog, independentarkansas.com . Email him at email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner .