The appearance of both Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke at the third annual Summer Gathering and Clinton Dinner for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, marks the first time presidential candidates have visited Arkansas before the 2020 election. It could also be an indication of a larger strategy for the Democrats.
KUAR spoke with Heather Yates, assistant professor of political science at the University of Central Arkansas about the upcoming appearances. Below is an excerpt of that conversation.
"The fact that both presidential candidates are attending a state party organization fundraiser points to the Democratic Party’s...the national party organization’s red state strategy. To attend events to help connect the party with voters, I think this is reflective of a lesson from 2016 that both parties learned. That voters in states that felt outweighed…red-state democrats, blue-state republicans felt that they were either being ignored or overlooked and taken for granted. And candidate O’Rourke mentioned about coming to Arkansas that he felt that the grassroots strategy is ever important. And that the party ought not to write any state off."
"So I think that it is a big deal that they’re coming to Arkansas to help the state party apparatus. This is a really big deal for the state organization, actually. It will help generate some enthusiasm on the ground. It will help the state party organization with their party building activities to help get candidate recruitment underway…To work on that for 2020 and beyond."
This event comes before even the Democratic primaries. Do you think that either of them are trying to make their statement that they want to win over voters in Arkansas when it comes to the primaries?
"When it comes to the primaries, I’m not convinced that their visit to Arkansas is in any way going to elevate their campaign or give them a bump. I definitely believe and interpret their visit to Arkansas is helping these state party organizations more. Now, that’s not to say it’s not mutually beneficial. But this is definitely a visit to this state where the Democratic organization here on the ground is…it’s under duress."
"The state party, the state Democrats in Arkansas have lost ground, significant electoral ground since 2010. So, a visit from candidates like Beto O’Rourke, who was really well known for his candidacy last year in the Senate for Texas and the record-breaking fundraising that he demonstrated to the party that he has in such a deep-red state like Texas, is certainly beneficial to Arkansas for the reasons of generating that enthusiasm on the ground. And that enthusiasm translates into financial support for the party apparatus. So, in view of the presidential election year that’s ahead of us, a visit like this really helps the Arkansas party out more than it probably helps their campaigns."
It’s been reported that the Democratic Party of Arkansas is having financial troubles. How much does a fundraising event like this, with both candidates appearing, how does that help the party?
"Fundraising is about a couple of things. Number one, buying the tickets to get into the event is about access…gaining access to Beto O’Rourke. It’s about gaining access to Amy Klobuchar. Now the money raised from the citizens buying these tickets will also then help the party fund its party building activities, which is sorely needed right now. And that ranges from everything of giving its candidate recruitment up and starting to recruit individuals to get that bench of candidates that the party needs, to set up their field operations for get out the vote, voter mobilization, electioneering and voter registration."
"So if there is any benefit to any candidate from this, whether O’Rourke or Klobuchar gets the nomination, the benefit is that there’s a mobilized Democratic base on the ground in Arkansas."