Arkansas Republicans take governor's office, sweep other top spots in midterm election

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Arkansas Republicans claimed the governor's office as they completed a sweep of the state's top posts, capitalizing on voters' opposition to President Barack Obama in taking over what had once been a Democratic holdout in the South.


TOP OF THE STATE TICKET

Republican Asa Hutchinson was elected Arkansas governor, handily defeating Democrat and fellow ex-congressman Mike Ross. The two had sparred primarily over competing tax cut plans.

The 63-year-old Hutchinson was elected to a four-year term, in a contest the Republicans had identified as their best opportunity to flip a governor's office. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who defeated Hutchinson eight years ago, was barred by term limits from running.

Republicans swept the other six constitutional offices. Hutchinson called the wins a "new day in Arkansas politics."

"We need to make sure we earn the respect and the support of the people of Arkansas by governing well, by working hard and acting honorably," he said. "We need to earn the support of the people of Arkansas by reaching out to those that may not have supported us but to say, 'You're a part of this team.'"

Ross urged his supporters to work with Hutchinson.

"Our communities are stronger when we come together to put people before politics," he said.

Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney, spent four years in Congress and served in the Bush administration as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and later as an undersecretary of Homeland Security. He had run unsuccessfully for statewide office three times before.

The 53-year-old Ross represented south Arkansas for 12 years in Congress.


US HOUSE SEATS

Republicans successfully defended four U.S. House districts, including two open seats that Democrats had hoped to reclaim.

Republican Rep. Tim Griffin is giving up his central Arkansas seat and won the lieutenant governor's race. Fellow Republican Rep. Tom Cotton won a U.S. Senate seat after one term in his southern Arkansas district.

Republican banking executive French Hill defeated Democratic nominee Pat Hays, the former North Little Rock mayor, in the race for Griffin's central Arkansas seat. Republican state Rep. Bruce Westerman defeated Democratic nominee and former Federal Emergency Management Director James Lee Witt to take the south Arkansas congressional seat currently held by Cotton.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Rick Crawford defeated Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson, a Democrat, in eastern Arkansas, while GOP Rep. Steve Womack easily won a third term after not facing opposition from a major party for the northwestern Arkansas seat.


BALLOT ISSUES

Arkansas voters approved increasing the state's minimum wage from $6.25 to $8.50 by 2017 but rejected legalizing alcohol sales statewide.

The proposals, which survived court challenges, were among five initiatives on the ballot.

Arkansas has what amounts to a checkerboard of "wet" and "dry" counties. Some counties are considered "damp," with alcohol sales allowed in private clubs. An initiated act would permit alcohol sales in every county.

Voters also approved loosening legislators' term limits in exchange for tougher ethics rules. Lawmakers now are restricted to three two-year terms in the House and two four-year terms in the Senate.


LEGISLATURE

Republicans retained control of the state House on Tuesday; they had already been assured of a majority in the Senate heading into the midterm. The GOP held control of both chambers of the Legislature after the 2012 election for the first time since Reconstruction.


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