AP Decision Notes: What to expect in Arkansas' state house primary runoffs

Voters in three Arkansas state House districts are returning to the polls to complete some unfinished business from the March 5 primaries

Robert Yoon
Friday 29 March 2024 11:04 GMT

Voters in three Arkansas state House districts will return to the polls Tuesday to complete some unfinished business from the March 5 primaries, including one race in which Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, are supporting different candidates.

The top two finishers from races in which no candidate received a majority of the vote in the primary will compete in runoff elections for a spot on the November ballot.

In southwestern Arkansas, Arnetta Bradford and Dolly Henley advanced to the runoff for the Republican nomination in District 88, where Republican state Rep. Danny Watson is not seeking another term.

Despite a huge fundraising disadvantage, Bradford led Henley in the March 5 primary, 47% to 45%, a vote margin of 63 votes. Bradford, a local coffee shop owner, has raised $9,200 for her campaign, the bulk of which came from two donations made in December totaling $6,600 from Sanders’ political action committee. It was the governor’s latest show of support for Bradford. A week after taking office in January 2023, Sanders appointed Bradford to the Black History Commission of Arkansas. She named Bradford’s shop “Arkansas Business of the Month” later that year and held an official government event there in January.

Henley, a longtime local government parks and recreation official and the wife of Washington Mayor Paul Henley, raised $77,650 for her campaign and had more than $34,000 in the bank about a week before the runoff. Bradford’s campaign had $300 in the bank, according to state campaign finance records. Among Henley’s campaign donors is Huckabee, who gave $1,000 in January. Huckabee’s hometown of Hope is in the district.

In Democratic-leaning eastern Arkansas just west of Memphis, runoff candidates are vying for their party’s nod to replace two retiring Democratic members.

In District 35, Jessie McGruder and Raymond Whiteside are the finalists for the Democratic nomination to succeed state Rep. Milton Nicks, who has held the seat since 2015. McGruder, a junior high school football coach, received the most votes in the primary, falling about 3 percentage points shy of the vote majority needed to avoid a runoff. Whiteside, a community development specialist for West Memphis and a former teacher and journalist, was second with about 24% of the primary vote.

In District 63, the race to replace outgoing Democratic state Rep. Deborah Ferguson pits Hughes Mayor Lincoln Barnett against insurance executive and former West Memphis mayoral candidate Fred Leonard for the Democratic nomination. Barnett was the vote leader in the March 5 primary, falling 1.5 percentage points short of clinching the nomination outright. But he was still only 108 votes ahead of Leonard.

Republicans have full control of the state government in Arkansas, with a Republican governor and supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature. In the state House, Republicans have an 82-18 advantage over Democrats.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:


The Arkansas state House primary runoff elections will be held on Tuesday. Polls close at 8:30 p.m. ET.


The Associated Press will provide coverage for Democratic primary runoff elections in state House Districts 35 and 63 and the Republican primary runoff in state House District 88.


Voters who participated in the March 5 primary for a specific state House seat may vote only in the same party’s runoff for that seat. In other words, voters who cast ballots in the Republican primary on March 5 may not vote in a Democratic runoff for the same seat, and Democratic primary voters can’t vote in a Republican runoff in the same district. Voters who did not participate in any party’s primary on March 5 may participate in the runoff. All voters must be registered in the district holding the runoff.


Runoffs tend to be lower-turnout events than the initial elections that prompted them. This could slow the race-calling process for a competitive contest in smaller jurisdictions where the total votes cast in a local race might number in the hundreds or low thousands in a regularly scheduled election. In these cases, determining the outcome could rest on a handful of ballots that have yet to be tabulated. In all three Arkansas state House runoff races, the vote margins between the top two candidates were relatively small: 311, 108 and 63 votes.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.


In the March 5 primaries in Arkansas, overall turnout was 21% of about 1.7 million registered voters. More than half of March 5 primary voters in the three state House districts holding runoffs Tuesday cast their ballots before primary day. Pre-Election Day voting made up 51% of the total votes cast in the District 35 Democratic primary, 56% in the District 62 Democratic primary and 50% in the District 88 Republican primary.

As of Thursday, 2,731 votes had already been cast for Tuesday's elections.


In the March 5 primary, the AP first reported results at 8:36 p.m. ET, or six minutes after polls closed. The election night tabulation ended at 3:28 a.m. ET with more than 99% of total votes counted.


As of Tuesday, there will be 217 days until the November general election.


Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

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