Sanders-backed candidate loses GOP legislative primary runoff in Hope



Republican Dolly Henley won an unusually contentious primary runoff election for a legislative seat in southwest Arkansas on Tuesday, defeating Arnetta Bradford for the House District 88 GOP nomination. Henley took 56% of the vote to Bradford’s 44%.

Bradford, a friend of Gov. Sarah Sanders, was backed by the governor and benefited from mailers and texts from an out-of-state group that accused Henley of secretly being a Democrat. Henley touted her connections to Sanders’ father, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is a friend of Henley’s family and donated $1,000 to her campaign.

The low-profile race heated up last week when state Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) took to Facebook to accuse the current occupant of the District 88 seat, Rep. Lee Watson, of striking a secret deal with the governor’s office to ensure the Republican primary would be won by a Sanders-approved candidate. Hickey claimed Watson had told others that he planned to seek reelection in order to dissuade possible opponents from entering the contest — allegedly in return for an appointment to a lucrative seat on the state parole board.

At least one other southwest Arkansas Republican legislator, Rep. Carol Dalby, has backed up Hickey’s account. Watson hasn’t responded to our requests for comment, but he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Hickey’s claims were “a flat out lie.” A spokesperson for the governor told the newspaper that Watson was never promised an appointment.

Turnout in District 88 was high for a statehouse primary runoff: 2,356 people cast a ballot, only about 700 less than voted in the March 5 primary.

There were two other legislative runoffs on Tuesday night, both among Democrats in east Arkansas. Hughes Mayor Lincoln Barnett defeated Fred Leonard in the House District 63 Democratic primary, a seat now held by Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis). In the race for House District 35, Jessie McGruder beat Raymond Whiteside; that seat is now held by Rep. Milton Nicks (D-Marion). Both Ferguson and Nicks are retiring at the end of their terms.


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