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Democratic congressional candidate shifts to Arkansas state Senate race

Former U.S. House candidate Nick Cartwright speaks with Talk Business & Politics shortly after announcing his campaign.
Talk Business & Politics

A candidate who had hoped to challenge central Arkansas Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. French Hill says he’s ending his campaign and pivoting to a state Senate race.

Democrat Nick Cartwright said Monday he is no longer running for Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District and will instead run for state Senate District 18, a seat that’s currently held by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe. This comes as the state legislature has proposed new district maps that would drastically alter the boundaries for the state’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In an interview, Cartwright said redistricting was not necessarily a factor in his decision to exit the congressional race.

“We were against what the legislature did to Pulaski County, did to the 2nd District; removing majority people of color out of the district and adding in a nearly all-white county,” Cartwright said. “With that being said though, we were actually looking at it as an opportunity to get into a county that is close to where I’m from and is more rural, so I thought I could connect with those folks.”

The new U.S. House district map given initial approval by the legislature adds Cleburne County to the 2nd District and excludes a portion of southeast Pulaski County.

Cartwright cited fundraising challenges, saying he raised just under $20,000 in the last quarter. He says he also didn’t receive guidance from national Democratic Party organizers, who had invested significant resources in past campaigns for the 2nd District seat.

“I think this district kind of has left a bad taste in their mouth with it being close in the polls and then the margins ended up being larger than we expected,” Cartwright said. “I think we’re seeing that across the country, they’re a little hesitant to dedicate a ton of resources early on, so I think that mixed with me being someone that maybe didn’t have as much name ID as a Joyce Elliott or a Clarke Tucker.”

Joyce Elliott and Clarke Tucker, both Democratic state senators from Little Rock, faced Rep. Hill in the 2nd District race in 2020 and 2018, respectively. While polling for both races showed a neck-and-neck contest in the days leading up to the election, Elliott and Tucker both ended up losing by more than five points.

Cartwright says running for state legislature will give him more time to focus on issues that affect rural Arkansans, like better access to broadband internet service and improving public education. Cartwright says the new state Senate district map creates a more competitive district, potentially boosting Democrats’ chances.

“I want to give rural people a voice in White County, in Faulkner and Cleburne County, because for so long they really haven’t had an option at the ballot box. And so regardless of party, I’m excited to see kind of where the discourse in this race goes.”

Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, has not said whether he is running for re-election, and has considered a bid for lieutenant governor in the past. With Cartwright’s exit from the race, educator and entrepreneur Quintessa Hathaway is now the only Democrat challenging Republican Rep. French Hill for the 2nd Congressional District seat.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.