Brawner

If there is a state with two senators more different in temperament than Arkansas’, I don’t know what it would be.

Sen. John Boozman is mild-mannered and soft-spoken. He doesn’t seek attention and doesn’t get much. You don’t see him interviewed on CNN or Fox News. Sen. Tom Cotton, meanwhile, is an outspoken, even combative national figure who is often mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2024.

If you’re following politics closely at all, you probably have an opinion about Cotton.

That’s not necessarily the case with Boozman. In fact, despite his 20 years in Congress, including the last 10 in the Senate, many Arkansans don’t have strong opinions about the state’s senior senator.

This week, Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College released a poll of 535 Arkansas voters where 30% approved of Boozman’s job performance, 38.5% disapproved and 31.5% didn’t know. I should disclose I do some writing for Talk Business.

CLICK HERE to see complete poll results.

Those would be terrible numbers for most incumbents. But as the site’s editor-in-chief, Roby Brock, noted in his analysis, this is a common poll result for Boozman.

To mix metaphors, he flies under the radar and doesn’t make waves, and it’s served him well. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001 by winning a four-person Republican primary and then beating the Democrat in the general election. In 2010, he won an outright majority – 53% – in an eight-person Republican primary race for the U.S. Senate. That was an impressive win. He then defeated

incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat, 58%-37%. The win foreshadowed Republicans’ coming dominance of Arkansas politics, but that same year Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was re-elected with 64% of the vote.

Presumably the formula will continue to work for Boozman, but times have changed since 2011. Today’s political climate doesn’t always reward mild-manneredness. In a state like Arkansas where a Republican is almost guaranteed to win a statewide race

against a Democrat, the bigger concern for incumbents is facing a primary opponent who is farther right and more pro-Trump.

Cotton did not have a primary opponent last year; he didn’t even face a Democrat. Boozman has three announced opponents for the 2022 primary, the most prominent being gun activist Jan Morgan. She managed 30% of the vote running for governor against Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2018.

She’s very outspoken, very conservative, and very pro-Trump. How best to describe her? She makes Tom Cotton look like John Boozman.

Cotton doesn’t hold much back in his comments about Democrats and the media. But he is more careful and restrained than Boozman about one subject: Trump.

While Boozman doesn’t go out of his way to criticize the former president, he has answered questions when asked. In February, he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette regarding the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot, "If there's evidence that the president committed a crime, then he needs to be charged and held accountable.”

As for his own opinion about Trump’s guilt or innocence, Boozman reportedly said, "That's a question that the prosecutors, that the legal authorities have to decide. His actions were certainly not anything that I would have done and didn't condone at the time.”

Like most Republicans and Cotton, Boozman voted to acquit Trump during the impeachment trials. He supported Trump’s policies. He’s hardly been a Trump opponent.

But yeah, he took a political risk making those comments with a re-election campaign approaching. On her website, Morgan is quoted saying, “Instead of fighting against NeverTrumpers like Mitch McConnell in the swamp, and fighting FOR election integrity, John Boozman is blaming Donald Trump for January 6th. It's unacceptable, and it's time for him to go."

As noted earlier, Morgan only won 30% of the vote against Hutchinson. The other announced candidates, Stuttgart pastor Heath Loftis and Fort Smith logistics professional Michael Deel, are not well known.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if Boozman faced a well-known, well-funded, experienced candidate who is more pro-Trump than he is. One such candidate would be Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who is facing an uphill battle in her campaign for governor against the ultimate pro-Trump candidate, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But Rutledge appears determined to stay in the governor’s race.

Weird things happen in politics, but Boozman likely will be headed back to Washington after 2022. He doesn’t get attention, but he does get elected.

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 brawnersteve@mac.com . Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner .

 

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