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Democrats’ hopes to flip a GOP House seat in Arkansas fizzle

November 7, 2018
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Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., speaks to his supporter's at the Republican Party election night rally Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — With a candidate who talked openly about his cancer battle and his support for protecting people with pre-existing conditions, Democrats believed they had a chance to flip a central Arkansas congressional district in a solidly Republican state.

But Republican Rep. French Hill’s win Tuesday over Democratic challenger Clarke Tucker in the 2nd Congressional District — along with the GOP maintaining control of the state’s other three House seats — underscored just how much of a challenge the state remains for Democrats.

Hill, who was first elected to the seat in 2014, said his win showed voters agreed the district was better off, but said Congress needed to focus on fixes to the immigration and health care systems.

“We have to move for change to make our country better, and clearly those two are places where we have to work together and do that, on both sides of the aisle, and with leadership from our president,” Hill told supporters.

Tucker, a state legislator, was encouraged by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to run for Hill’s seat and touted as the party’s best chance to win the district.

Tucker talked often about his bout with bladder cancer last year, and criticized Hill over his vote to repeal the federal health care law last year. Tucker underwent surgery and chemotherapy last year and is now cancer-free. He said the experience and House Republicans’ vote to repeal the health care law motivated him to challenge Hill. The repeal effort failed in the Senate.

Tucker said he was proud of the campaign he ran, which he said remained focused on issues that matter to people in the district.

“We always knew it was going to be close,” Tucker said. “We just fell a little bit short tonight.”

Hill easily won his second term in 2016 by more than 20 percentage points, but had been on defense in this year’s race. He ran a series of ads trying to link Tucker with national Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. He criticized Tucker as soft on immigration and for the times he voted “present” or didn’t cast a vote on controversial bills in the state House.

Hill’s campaign fund dwarfed Tucker’s, and the race drew the interest of national groups on both sides. Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s PAC ran online ads and sent out mailers targeting Tucker, while the Democrats’ congressional campaign arm ran TV spots attacking Hill over health care.

Jeff Walker, who owns a fitness center in Little Rock, has supported Hill in the past and backed Trump two years ago but voted for Tucker in Tuesday’s election. Walker, 52, said he recently purchased coverage through the insurance exchange set up under the health care law and worried he wouldn’t be able to afford a policy if the overhaul is repealed.

“I voted for Clarke Tucker just in fear of that going away,” Walker said after voting at a west Little Rock church.

Bernica Tackett, a retired teacher from Bryant, said Tuesday she voted for Hill and she believed the incumbent lawmaker has helped enact Trump’s agenda.

“I think he really does follow the lead that the president promised,” Tackett said.

Republican Rep. Steve Womack, who chairs the House Budget Committee, defeated Democrat Josh Mahony in northwest Arkansas’ 3rd District. In east Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District, Republican Rep. Rick Crawford defeated Democratic challenger Chintan Desai. Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman won over Democratic nominee Hayden Shamel in the 4th District in south Arkansas.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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