Last year a long time Democrat told us he switched to the Republican Party to run for office. Why the switch? He said, “Because I want to win.”
The politician’s statement came as no surprise. Some candidates choose to run as a Democrat or Republican because they believe in the party’s platform and identify with it, but others choose a party they do not necessarily fit because that party gives them the best chance of winning in their area.
With the Republican Party’s success, expect to see more candidates choose to self-identify as Republican because they want to win.
Arkansas used to be an all-Democrat state. It did not matter if you were liberal or conservative you ran as a Democrat.
As the Republican Party began to grow one of the first strongholds for Republicans was northwest Arkansas. If you wanted to get elected in northwest Arkansas your chances were far better as a Republican than as a Democrat, unless you were in a liberal city like Fayetteville or Eureka Springs.
One of the last areas of the state to become Republican was east Arkansas and many conservative candidates ran as Democrats. But they weren’t pretending to be liberals. The Democrat Party used to call itself the Big Tent Party to recognize it had both liberals and conservatives in its ranks. This welcoming of conservatives ended as the Democrat Party needed every vote to combat the growing Republican Party. By 2011 Democrat leaders in the legislature were clamping down on Democrat legislators who voted with the Republicans on some issues.
This change can be seen in the example of the late Linda Collins from Pocahontas who was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in the 2010 as a conservative Democrat. Her seat in the House was mostly surrounded by Republicans. One of them told her not to worry about being from a different party, “I’m a RINO” (Republican In Name Only) Turned out he wasn’t joking.
Linda Collins voted conservative just as she had promised her constituents. Because of this, one day she found herself being surrounded by Democrat leaders who berated her for voting with the Republicans on some issues. She was told she WOULD get in line and vote with the Democrat Party position. Not long after, Linda changed parties and became a Republican because its platform matched her votes. In her next election, being a Republican helped get her beat. But she was later elected to the Arkansas Senate as a Republican.
State Senator Jim Hendren recently left the Republican Party to become an independent. He is from northwest Arkansas where you had to file as a Republican if you wanted to win.
Hendren’s voting record since the Republicans became the majority and his uncle Asa was elected as Governor hasn’t been aligned with the conservative platform of the Republican Party. With his voting record and recent statements, it was unlikely he could win in a Republican primary anyway. So, leaving the Republican Party when he could no longer reap the benefits of calling himself a Republican is not a big deal.
What is a big deal: Hendren did not choose to become a Democrat! That shows how far out of favor the Democrat Party has slid in Arkansas.
The two issues even a RINO must support in order to win are:
1. Pro-Life–opposing abortion, and
2. Gun Rights–under the 2nd Amendment. A RINO will vote Pro-Life whether it is an important issue to him personally. A RINO will dress up in hunting gear and say, “I’m Pro 2A,” even if he votes for gun restrictions. A RINO must say these things to have a chance in the Republican primary.
Some RINOs get re-elected time and time again just by posturing on these two issues while ignoring all the other conservative policies of the Republican platform.
If Hendren runs for Governor he will continue his posturing on those two issues, even though his 2A record is questionable. He will try to appeal to the Never-Trumpers and bank on the Democrat Party being too radical for independents and many Democrats.
Since 2015 Hendren boxed himself in by showing he is not a conservative. Hendren’s only “I want to win” option is to become an independent candidate and that does not appear to be a winning option. Voters will see his record of saying one thing and doing the opposite and that won’t play well with Republicans, Democrats, or independents.
With Hendren, the one-time Republican leader of the Arkansas Senate, out of the way, maybe more Republican legislators will vote like Republicans and start cutting government waste! We can hope.
Again, the big story of Hendren’s announcement is the fact he did not choose to become a Democrat. It shows how far the fortunes of the Democrat Party have fallen.