September 25th, 2021


The Clintons and a long goodbye to Arkansas

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Nov. 15, 2016

The Clintons and a long goodbye to Arkansas
This has been a bad year for dreams of dynasties. The Bush dynasty has been dismantled with Jeb, who was the first favored son, writing finis to the family dream of a trifecta.

Hillary Clinton, who started plotting her path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when she was a law student at Yale, took a detour through Arkansas and if she still wants to be a president will have to settle for Wellesley, or Smith or one of the other Seven Sisters. But it won't be anything in Arkansas.

Even with her borrowed family name, her brief but famous law practice in Little Rock and other ties to the state, her election day was particularly dismal in Arkansas. She won just under 34 percent of the popular vote, winning only eight of the state's 75 counties.

She won the vote in Little Rock and surrounding Pulaski County, still a stronghold of what passes for liberalism in Arkansas, and a handful of Delta counties along the Mississippi River, which are predominantly black. The Delta, the most prosperous region of the state only a generation ago, has been hollowed out by the flight of blacks to Chicago and white landowners to retirement elsewhere.

The prosperity is in the Ozarks mountain counties in the northwest corner of the state, once the poorest and most bedraggled region of the state, where the headquarters of Walmart, the world's largest retailer, and several of the nation's largest truck lines have showered jobs and dollars on hill and hollow. These are Republican counties, dating from the Civil War, when and where brothers loyal to the Union fought against brothers of the Confederacy. Yankees were never popular with anyone, then or now.

"Nationally, Mzz Clinton didn't do well with white working-class people," H.L. Moody, a spokesman for the state Democratic party, tells Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state's largest newspaper, "and Arkansas is filled with white working-class people. So we echoed a national trend."

Donald Trump won nearly 60 percent of the popular vote, translating to 6 electoral votes, and 67 percent of whites without a college degree in a year when a college degree, even if from the Ivy League, separates in media eyes the good and worthy from the hopelessly backward and unwashed.

The Donald captured 62 percent of the rural vote; only a little more than half of Arkansans live in towns and cities (by comparison, 80 percent of the rest of America do). He won 61 percent of veterans of military service; Arkansas always contributes more men to fight the nation's wars, figured per capita, than almost any other state.

Perhaps most telling of all, he won 81 percent of the white evangelicals in a state sometimes called Fort Baptist. "Put all that together and you have a recipe for Trump voters," says Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University. Another political-science professor, Jay Barth of Hendrix College, says he thinks a lot of Democrats assumed their recent decline in Arkansas was "just an Obama problem. I think a lot of Arkansas Democrats really thought that she would really help bring some of those folks home."

That didn't happen, and with black turnout down in some counties Hillary ran well behind President Obama's 2012 totals. She also ran behind losing totals for Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry. She ran ahead of the vote totals for George McGovern, but not by much, and Mr. McGoo's campaign in 1972 was memorable for how disaster followed disaster. He even had to change running mates when the first one was discovered to have suffered a bout of mental illness.

Good feeling toward Bubba, who is regarded as a rascal but still popular in Arkansas. is thought to be capable, just, of winning a statewide race if there was one, but this good feeling could not rub off on Hillary. She even lost the county where Bubba was born and spent his early years. Bubba may "still believe in a place called Hope," as his campaign video biography proclaimed in 1992, but Hope doesn't have much use for Hillary.

"It's just a sign of the times," Hope Mayor Dennis Ramsey told the Little Rock newspaper. "What precipitated it? That's beyond my pay grade. Hempstead County's just like the rest of Arkansas. Arkansas is a red state, and Hempstead's a red county."

Hillary made certain friends over her 16 years in Arkansas, but nobody ever accused her of becoming an honorary native daughter. That usually requires a minimum of two generations. "She cut her ties to the state when they left for Washington," says Tim Griffin, the Republican lieutenant governor. "She chose not to live here.

"You had a choice between a Republican from New York who wants to boldly change Washington and a liberal from New York who represents the status quo. I mean, that's a no-brainer."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.