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Primary runoff preview: Arkansas attorney general election, 2014

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June 9, 2014


By Maresa Strano

Little Rock, Arkansas: Two Little Rock lawyers will battle for the Republican nomination for Arkansas Attorney General in tomorrow's primary runoff election. The seat is open this cycle because current Democratic incumbent Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling, who received approximately 47 and 39 percent of the May 20 primary vote, respectively, will take part in a primary runoff on June 10. The runoff will settle what has turned into a bitter rivalry between the two candidates, each of whom campaigned heavily on their qualifications for the role of Arkansas' chief law enforcement officer.

Including attorney general, seven state executive positions are up for election in 2014 in the state of Arkansas. Among the seven, a mere two incumbents, Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) and State Lands Commissioner John Thurston (R), are running for re-election to their current posts this year.[1]

On May 20, 2014, Arkansas voters nominated candidates from six contested primary fields - five Republican and one Democratic - to earn a slot on the November 4 general election ballot. Both Republican and Democratic primaries were held for the governor's race, plus Republican primaries for lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and auditor. After the votes were counted, only the GOP nominee for attorney general remained in question. Of the three candidates, one, Patricia Nation, was eliminated immediately, but neither of the remaining pair managed to garner enough votes to automatically advance to the general election.

The winner of tomorrow's primary runoff will face unopposed Democratic nominee Nate Steel and Libertarian Aaron Cash in November for the chance to replace McDaniel.

Arkansas is one of 14 states that uses an open primary system, in which registered voters do not have to be members of a party to vote in that party's primary.[2][3][4]

In Arkansas, all polling places will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Election Day. When the polls close, if you are in line, you will be permitted to vote.[5]

Arkansas Attorney General
See also: Arkansas attorney general election, 2014

The general election ballot is still up in the air thanks to last month's tight Republican attorney general primary. Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling will compete in a runoff on June 10 for the right to face unopposed Democratic nominee Nate Steel and Libertarian Aaron Cash in November.

General election

Republican Party Leslie Rutledge[6] Green check mark transparent.png
Democratic Party Nate Steel[7]
Libertarian Party Aaron Cash[8]

Did not file for office

Democratic Party Dustin McDaniel - Incumbent

Lost in the runoff

Republican Party David Sterling[9]

Lost in the primary

Republican Party Patricia Nation[10][11]

May 20 Primary Election Results
  • Republican primary
Arkansas Attorney General, Republican Primary, 2014
Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngLeslie Rutledge 47.2% 79,347
Green check mark transparent.pngDavid Sterling 39.1% 65,733
Patricia Nation 13.7% 22,986
Total Votes 168,066
Election Results via Arkansas Secretary of State.

Race background

In December 2013, the attorney general race was given its second consecutive "toss-up" rating by Governing. In March 2013, the open seat - held by term-limited Democrat Dustin McDaniel - was first rated as vulnerable to partisan switch in the 2014 elections based on predictions that McDaniel's personal issues would cause a substantial number of voters to reevaluate their usual selection methods as well as the merits of electing a Republican attorney general next time around. Shortly before the March rating came out, McDaniel was exposed for philandering for the second time in his attorney general tenure. The scandal forced him to end a long-anticipated campaign for the governor's office, which was open in 2014 due to incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe hitting term limits.[12]

Ballot access for political parties
See also: Requirements to establish a political party in Arkansas

In Arkansas, the process to establish a political party is tied to the votes cast in a presidential or gubernatorial election. In order to initially put candidates on the ballot, political parties must submit a petition with 10,000 signatures. Then, in order to maintain that status beyond the election year in which they submit such a petition, their candidate for governor or president must receive at least three percent of the votes cast for that office.[13][14]

In 2012, both the Libertarian and Green Parties of Arkansas qualified to put candidates on the ballot, but then their candidates did not receive enough votes for the parties to maintain their ballot status. In the fall of 2013, both parties submitted new petitions and were qualified to put candidates on the 2014 ballot.[15][16][17] In order to maintain their status as political parties without needing to petition for the 2016 elections, their candidates for governor needed to receive at least 3 percent of the vote. Frank Gilbert (L) received 1.9 percent of the gubernatorial vote and Josh Drake (G) earned 1.1 percent of the vote.[18]

Primary election

Five candidates - three Republican, one Democratic and one Libertarian - filed for the election to replace McDaniel. A primary was held on May 20 to decide which of the three Republican hopefuls would move on to the general election with the party's nomination. It was a close contest between the race's two Little Rock lawyers, Leslie Rutledge and David Sterling, neither of whom received a sufficient share of the vote to avoid a primary runoff election on June 10.

Rutledge and Sterling both ran on their legal resumes and past efforts to support conservative causes. Rutledge claimed she was the more qualified candidate because she was “the only one with experience fighting crime, the only one with experience fighting the overreaching federal government.” Sterling, meanwhile, claimed his federal court experience made him the superior candidate, touting his ample courtroom experience. “The AG’s office is essentially Arkansas’ largest law firm, and I think that the voters want a serious and responsible and experienced attorney leading that law firm,” Sterling said.[19]

Rutledge ultimately defeated Sterling in the Republican primary runoff, earning over 58 percent of the vote.[20] She faced unopposed Democratic nominee Nate Steel and Libertarian Aaron Cash in the general election on November 4.

Questions over Rutledge's voter registration

Leslie Rutledge experienced several challenges to her general election campaign after the primary. In late September, Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane (D) revoked Rutledge's voter registration because she was also registered in Washington, D.C. and Virginia. Rutledge lambasted Crane's decision as a political maneuver and noted in an interview with the Arkansas News Bureau that "there are consequences related to gender when it comes to women in politics, particularly, we know, when they run for traditionally quote-unquote masculine offices, and the attorney general's office is one of those."[21]

The cancelled voter registration joined other accusations made against Rutledge's campaign since the June runoff. Documents from the Arkansas Department of Human Services were published, which revealed Rutledge was placed on a "do not rehire" list because of gross misconduct in 2007. She was also accused of illegal coordination with a super PAC related to her involvement in a Republican Attorneys General Association ad, though the state's ethics commission dismissed this accusation in February 2015.[21][22]

See also

Ballotpedia News


  1. Arkansas News Bureau, "Elvis Presley files for Arkansas Land Commissioner," February 27, 2014
  2. National Conference of State Legislatures Website, "State Primary Election Types," accessed January 6, 2014
  3. Fair Vote, "Congressional and Presidential Primaries: Open, Closed, Semi-Closed, and 'Top Two,'" accessed January 6, 2014
  4. Ballotpedia research conducted December 26, 2013, through January 3, 2014, researching and analyzing various state websites and codes.
  5. Arkansas Code, "Title 7, Chapter 5, Subchapter 4," accessed January 3, 2014
  6. Leslie Rutledge, "Campaign website," accessed August 12, 2013
  7. Nate Steel Attorney General, "Campaign website," accessed August 12, 2013
  8. Arkansas Secretary of State, "2014 Preferential Primary Elections & Non Partisan General Election, Aaron Scott Cash," accessed March 3, 2014
  9. David Sterling Attorney General, "Campaign website," accessed August 12, 2013
  10. Lexington Herald-Leader, "Attorney announces for Arkansas attorney general," January 30, 2014
  11., "Tolbert: Nation Set To Announce For Attorney General," January 30, 2014
  12. Governing, "The 2013-2014 Attorneys General Races: Who's Vulnerable?," March 25, 2013
  13. Arkansas Code, "Title 7, Section 1-101-21," accessed December 3, 2013
  14. Arkansas House Bill 2036, "An Act To Amend the Law Concerning Certain Procedural Dates In Election; To Amend the Law Concerning Certain Petitions; And For Other Purposes," Approved April 18, 2013 (timed out)
  15. Libertarian Party of Arkansas Website, "History of the Libertarian Party of Arkansas," accessed December 5, 2013
  16. Green Party of Arkansas Website, "Ballot Access," accessed December 5, 2013
  17. Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, "New Political Party Petition--Green Party," November 6, 2013
  18. UALR Public Radio, "Poll: Ross, Hutchinson In Virtual Dead Heat In Governor’s Race," April 6, 2014
  19. Arkansas News, "GOP attorney general hopefuls to face off in Tuesday’s runoff election," June 7, 2014
  20., "Rutledge wins GOP nomination for attorney general," June 10, 2014
  21. 21.0 21.1 Times Record, "Election 2014: Arkansas AG Candidate Claims Gender Bias," October 5, 2014
  22. Times Record, "Ethics Complaint Against Arkansas Attorney General Dismissed," January 24, 2015