LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republicans swept Arkansas' four U.S. House seats and won control of the state Senate for the first time since Reconstruction, as GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney won the state's six electoral votes Tuesday in an election that upended a Democratic majority that dates back to 1874.
Democrats relied on popular Gov. Mike Beebe in their bid to keep a majority in the state House and Senate. But Republicans built on momentum from two years ago when the party flipped a U.S. Senate seat and two U.S. House seats as the party expanded its influence in Arkansas, largely based on President Barack Obama's unpopularity in the state.
Obama won re-election Tuesday, despite losing in Arkansas.
Republicans won 20 of 35 seats in the state Senate, with two seats undecided. Republicans held a 47-45 margin in the 100-member House with high turnout and vote-counting problems delaying returns in a handful of counties. The GOP was favored in congressional matchups around the state and Romney had been widely expected to win the state. Obama lost the state in 2008 and fared poorly in this May's primary.
"I think it's a an exciting new day for Arkansas after 138 years of primarily one party rule," said freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who defeated Democratic challenger Herb Rule in the race for Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District.
In Pine Bluff, 69-year-old retiree Linda Johnson said she voted for Romney because she doesn't think Obama has done enough to help the economy.
"That was a hard one," said Johnson, who four years ago voted for Obama. "I didn't really like either one of them."
Dissatisfaction led Erin Teague, 32, to vote for Romney at the Cabot Community Center on Tuesday morning.
"I just don't like the way things have been going. People can't pay their bills," said Teague, who works at a law firm that specializes in debt collection. She said she voted a straight Republican ticket.
Voting was heavy statewide. Nearly a half-million Arkansans voted early — a record — and election officials predicted that 65 percent of the state's 1.6 million registered voters would cast ballots, or about 1.04 million.
State GOP leaders wanted to build on gains they made in the state two years ago, with Republican candidates and affiliated groups running ads trying to link Democrats throughout the state to Obama and his federal health care overhaul.
Democrats in turn relied increasingly on Beebe, who was re-elected in 2010, to help his party stop a potential GOP takeover of the Legislature.
"I've been saying all along I think it's close. You see polls both ways," Beebe said Tuesday at his precinct in Searcy, where he was voting. "It's close right now. The House and Senate are close right now. I expect they'll be close one way or the other tomorrow morning."
Beebe, who leaves office in early 2015 and is not on this year's ballot, has said he wants to expand Medicaid under the new health care law when legislators return to Little Rock in January. Republicans want to explore cutting the income tax and possibly reducing state spending.