Governor and senator-elect Dale Bumpers chats with then-Governor Jimmy Carter in December 1974. (AP file photo)
In 1970, Dale Bumpers upended the ‘established political machine.’ One state senator believes Mr. Trump will do the same.
As the nation heads into the homestretch of Election Day 2016, John Cooper recognizes the landscape that spreads before him.
The Republican state senator from Jonesboro was a young man in 1970 when a relative unknown named Dale Bumpers entered an Arkansas gubernatorial race that seemingly was stacked against him.
In the Democratic Party primary, Mr. Bumpers, who died in January, took on a six-time former governor, along with the state’s attorney general and speaker of the house. Despite an early poll that showed him with one percent of the vote, Mr. Bumpers surged ahead of the pack in the primary to take on the “established political machine” embodied in his opponent, two-term Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, Mr. Cooper recalls.
In the general election, Mr. Bumpers again was cast as the underdog. But then, as Mr. Cooper recalls, “there was a kind of hidden enthusiasm that came out to play the last week of the election and shocked the state.”
Mr. Cooper believes the same kind of tide that swept Dale Bumpers into office in 1970 will lift Republican nominee Donald Trump into the U.S. presidency. “I think Trump will win,” he told me over the phone. “I’m thinking he has a better chance than people are giving him.”
Republican state Senator Ronald Caldwell of Wynne agrees: “I think Donald Trump has the momentum to win this election.”
Polls aggregated by Real Clear Politics currently show Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton with a slight edge over Mr. Trump heading into tonight.
Mr. Cooper, however, doesn’t believe these polls accurately gauge the large number of Americans who have not divulged their plans to vote for Mr. Trump. “I think this is a classic example of people holding their vote up their sleeves until the end,” he says, in part because they want to avoid arguments with others in a charged and polarized political climate.
On the national level, Mr. Trump has caused some polarization within the Republican Party itself. A raft of Republicans, including former general Colin Powell, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Florida congressional delegate Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, do not support their party’s frontrunner. These stances may cost some Republicans politically, Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and now a resident of Florida, said this morning on Fox News.
“I’m going to tell you something. I’m going to remember them,” Mr. Huckabee said, referring to those who haven’t come around to support Mr. Trump. “And I hope every other Republican remembers them. Don’t ever ask me for your vote again because you’re done.”
Polls around these parts, meanwhile, indicate Mr. Trump will win Arkansas by a large margin.
Statewide Republican officials may support Mr. Trump by an even larger margin. It appears only one such official has announced a full pivot away from Mr. Trump: Arkansas Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam. “Although I have not been a supporter of Mr. Trump in the past, I have remained hopeful that he would give me a reason to vote for my party’s nominee,” he said in early October. “I no longer have that hope. I believe he should withdraw from the race immediately.”
Neither Mr. Cooper nor Mr. Caldwell knows of a single Arkansan Republican other than Mr. Gillam who has not or would not vote for Trump.
Arkansas’ political dynamic is unique since Hillary Clinton lived here from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. The Clintons still have many friends and acquaintances here. So would it surprise Mr. Cooper if someone with such deep Arkansan ties lost so soundly to someone with hardly any ties?
Not at all.
“I think the Clintons have long lost their clout in Arkansas,” he said. “Arkansans know the Clintons very well. The numbers show they’re not representing the feelings of Arkansas voters and constituents. To most people, they are on the far left and that’s not where most people in Arkansas are.”
Mr. Cooper plans to attend to a watch party or two tonight in Jonesboro. He’ll be at Sue’s Kitchen downtown. If you want to chat about tonight’s elections, or anything else for that matter, he says “Come on by.”