On Election Day, most Arkansans will have their down-ballot gazes locked in on the race for Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District, where state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D) is challenging incumbent Rep. French Hill (R).
As the remainder of the district’s ballots are cast and counted today, onlookers should focus on the margins in the seven counties that make up the district tonight: Conway, Faulkner, Perry, Pulaski, Saline, Van Buren and White.
For Elliott, the path to victory will require a significant overperformance to her predecessor, Rep. Clarke Tucker, who opposed Hill in 2018. Hill carried the plurality of the vote in the last election cycle, winning re-election by a 52 to 45 percent margin (the Libertarian candidate, Joe Ryne Swafford, carried 2 percent).
Of the seven counties, Pulaski County remains the only lock to finish in Elliott’s favor. This is where she will need to “run up the score” to a much larger degree than Tucker in order to counteract her disadvantages elsewhere. Tucker tallied a little more than 59 percent of the vote in Pulaski in 2018.
A local election modeler, Brady Shiers, mapped out a potential lane to victory for Elliott on Twitter Tuesday morning. According to Shiers’ calculations, Elliott will need at least 63 percent of the Pulaski vote, an overperformance of 4 percent.
Elsewhere, Shiers models a potential need of 36 percent in Conway County, where she could actually lose ground to Tucker by 1; 37 percent in Faulkner County, a gain of 2; just less than 32 percent in Perry County, a 3 point gain; 36 percent in Saline County, a 7 point swing; 35 percent of Van Buren County, a 10 point gain; and 33 percent in White County, a gain of 11.
This hypothetical estimates a turnout of around 336,000 voters, which would be an increase of 82,000 votes as compared to 2018 and an increase of 33,000 votes versus the last General Election in 2016.
From 30,000 feet up, the margins can ebb and flow into one another in the most likely scenarios for Elliott, but she will almost certainly have to outperform significantly in Pulaski to make up for ground lost in the other six counties.
Faulkner might prove to be a potential wild card as results trickle in. Democratic gains there were among the biggest by margin from 2016 to 2018.
For Hill, not nearly as much has to go “right,” so to speak. Although, this race will be much closer than any he has faced since attaining this congressional seat in 2014. Various national outlets and modelers have labeled this race a “toss-up,” where, historically speaking, incumbents are at an inherent advantage.
The congressman will likely to take his victories in six counties — running up the vote everywhere he can — while also keeping it close enough in Pulaski. A better-than 35 percent share of the county’s vote will likely be enough for him to retain his position in Washington, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
This year’s election also does not feature a third-party candidate, up-in-the-air votes that both Elliott and Hill would relish. Elliott may have the strongest claim, as nearly half of Swafford’s votes in 2018 came from Pulaski, and more than 1,000 from Faulkner.
Either way, with the apparent closeness of this race according to the polls, the increased volume of turnout, and the prevalence of mail-in ballots related to the ongoing pandemic, this race may go down as “too close to call” on election night.
Polls in Arkansas close at 7:30 p.m. on Election Day.