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GOP Sen. John Boozman fending off rivals in Arkansas primary

Sen. Boozman/Jake Bequette
Sen. Boozman/Jake Bequette(ky3)
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 12:12 PM CDT
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republican Sen. John Boozman hopes to fend off three challengers in Arkansas’ primary Tuesday who are trying to paint him as not conservative enough, despite his support from former President Donald Trump, groups such as the National Rifle Association and the state’s top GOP figures.

Boozman’s reelection bid hasn’t garnered the attention nationally of other top campaigns like Senate races in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but it could be another test of Trump’s influence in an extremely red state.

A soft-spoken eye doctor who has served two terms in the Senate, Boozman adopted a more combative tone in his campaign ads that tout the support of Trump and other GOP figures. Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, and fellow Sen. Tom Cotton have recorded ads playing heavily in the state backing Boozman.

“I know John Boozman as a champion of President Trump’s America-First agenda,” Sanders says in one ad.

But the lawmaker has faced an onslaught of attacks from a super PAC funded by a shipping executive backing former NFL player Jake Bequette’s effort to unseat Boozman. Conservative activist Jan Morgan and pastor Heath Loftis are also seeking the Republican nomination.

One of the ads by the pro-Bequette group refers to Boozman as “Biden’s favorite Republican.”

Boozman’s rivals have labeled him a RINO — Republican In Name Only — even though the incumbent voted more than 91% of the time with Trump, according to the website FiveThirtyEight. Boozman has voted with Biden 34% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tally, and his challengers say that is too often.

Boozman’s rivals have criticized him over his decision to not challenge Biden’s win in the presidential election, despite Trump’s lies about a stolen election. They’ve also criticized Boozman saying last year that Trump bore “some responsibility” for the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, though Boozman voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial over the riot.

Boozman said he remains committed to Trump and that he doesn’t hold him directly responsible for Jan. 6. He also said he would support the former president if he runs again in 2024.

At least three super PACs supporting Boozman also have been running ads, including one that attacks Bequette as “Fake Jake.”

If no one fails to win an outright majority, the top two will move on to a primary runoff on June 21. A runoff is also possible on the Democratic side, with Jack Foster, Natalie James and Dan Whitfield seeking the party’s nomination Tuesday to challenge Boozman.

Boozman has focused on farming and veterans issues during his time in the Senate, topics that do not lend themselves to viral videos or incendiary speeches but are crucial in this predominantly rural state. He was first elected in the Senate in 2010 after winning an eight-candidate primary without a runoff and easily won reelection in 2016.

Boozman is in line to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee if Republicans win control of the Senate. He’s running with the support of influential conservative groups including National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association.

Jay Porter, a real estate appraiser in Little Rock, said he was torn between Boozman and Bequette in the primary but ultimately voted for the incumbent senator Tuesday. Porter cited Boozman’s experience as a factor.

“He’s in the committees, he’s got power, where a newbie’s not going to have as much power,” Porter, 51, said. “He’s going to be a junior senator who’s not going to get in some of the stronger committees.”

Anita Donnell, a 76-year-old retiree in Little Rock, said she’s supported Boozman in past elections but cast her ballot Tuesday for Morgan.

“He doesn’t speak out as much as Cotton,” Donnell said. “I just didn’t want to vote for him this time.”

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