Attorney John Wolfe, Jr. of Chattanooga, Tennessee won 68,105 votes for 42 percent of the total in Tuesday’s Arkansas Democratic Party presidential primary. He came in first in 36 counties and finished only 16 points behind Barack Obama, who won the primary with 95,382 votes for 58 percent. The result tops prison inmate Keith Russell Judd‘s 41 percent West Virginia primary showing against Obama two weeks ago as the strongest outing for a Democratic challenger thus far. According to The Green Papers, Wolfe qualified for 19 Democratic National Convention delegates, which the party has already announced they will deny.
Wolfe, who is concerned about the influence of Wall Street in the Obama administration, announced his primary challenge to Obama last year. So far, along with Arkansas, he has qualified for the primary ballot in New Hampshire, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. Before Tuesday, his strongest showing came in Louisiana, where he won 12 percent overall with over 15 percent in some congressional districts, qualifying him for delegates. However, these were stripped after the party claimed Wolfe had not filed the necessary paperwork. He has announced plans to take legal action against the party, and in an interview with Wikinews last week, commented, “the Democratic Party decided to avert, quite flagrantly, the will of the people and assign all the delegates to Mr. Obama, even though their bylaws, the rules themselves say that the results of the primary are binding…They forsook their own law in order to make it look like there was unanimous support for Obama.”
Although President Obama has won enough delegates in this election cycle to secure the Democratic Party nomination, previously unknown challengers such as Wolfe have qualified for delegates. In March, anti-abortion activist Randall Terry and perennial candidate Jim Rogers qualified for delegates in Oklahoma, but later had them stripped by the party for not filing delegate slates and, in Terry’s case, not qualifying as a bona-fide candidate. The same outcome occurred for Judd in West Virginia, and as mentioned above, for Wolfe in Louisiana and Arkansas.
After the Arkansas Democratic Party announced prior to Tuesday’s vote that any delegates Wolfe gains will not be seated, Wolfe told The Daily Caller he would pursue further legal action, proclaiming, “It will be a summer of litigation. … I hate to do it against my own party, but they’re acting as if this guy [Obama] is some kind of emperor.”
The last Democratic Party presidential incumbent, Bill Clinton, faced fewer challenges than Obama during his 1996 primary election, but the party still had to deal with a candidate that won delegates. Challenger Lyndon LaRouche qualified for delegates in Louisiana and Virginia that year, but the party stripped these, claiming LaRouche’s views were “explicitly racist and anti-Semitic.” Like Wolfe, LaRouche proceeded to sue the party, but was unsuccessful.
Regardless of whether the party ultimately awards the delegates, some analysts say the results provide insights into voters’ perception of Obama. Peter Grier of The Christian Science Monitor explained that “white working-class voters”, who make up a majority in Arkansas, “have been disproportionately hurt by the economic downturn, and they’re resistant to what they see as Obama’s liberal health-care reforms and support of gay marriage.” Republican Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma argued “Obama fares poorly in states like … Arkansas because he has nothing in common with them. They are rural, he is urban. They are populist, he is elitist. And in case anyone hadn’t noticed, they are conservative while he is liberal.” Former Democratic Congressman Charlie Stenholm largely agreed, commenting “The most significant factor is the perception/reality that the Obama administration has leaned toward the ultra-left viewpoint on almost all issues.”
Others have dismissed the results, arguing it is a foregone conclusion that Obama will not win Arkansas in the general election, and that opposition there may be the result of racism against Obama, the first African American president. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post published an article questioning whether racism played a role and concluded that though it likely did, “simply labeling [the people of] Arkansas who backed Tennessee lawyer John Wolfe over the incumbent as ‘racists’ is a major oversimplification.” University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato warned Democrats against overlooking the results, saying “Obama will never carry white working class. But he can’t afford to lose it by massive margins, either.”
The Associated Press asked a few Arkansas voters how they cast their ballot and why. One voter, described as a 57-year-old resident of Lonoke, Arkansas, said she voted for John Wolfe because she “wasn’t satisfied with Obama” and had a particular concern about Social Security. An 85-year-old retiree from Little Rock, Arkansas said he also voted for Wolfe, but called it “a wasted vote…I guess you just do it in opposition.”
As for the Obama supporters, one Little Rock voter said he cast his ballot for Obama, even though “I am not entirely happy with what he is doing.” Another, identified as a 51-year-old attorney from Lonoke, said she voted for Obama and fully supports him because “he stands up for what he believes in and he has not wavered.” One 73-year-old retired aircraft mechanic said he voted for Obama because “they don’t have but two names on the ballot: President Obama and that other guy [John Wolfe], [and] I don’t know anything about the other guy.”
In other races on Tuesday, “uncommitted” won a similar margin as Wolfe against Obama in the Kentucky Democratic primary. On the Republican side, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney easily won both the Arkansas and Kentucky primaries with 68.3 percent and 66.8 percent, respectively.
The next primary will be held May 29 in Texas. Wolfe will be on the ballot alongside Obama, historian Darcy Richardson, and activist Bob Ely
- Associated Press. “Comments from Arkansas primary election voters” — The Courier (Arkansas), May 23, 2012
- Peter Grier. “Obama loses 42 percent of Kentucky, Arkansas primary vote. Should he worry?” — The Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2012
- Chris Cillizza. “Kentucky, Arkansas primaries: Is it racism?” — The Washington Post, May 23, 2012
- “Arkansas Democrat Presidential Nominating Process” — The Green Papers, May 23, 2012 (date of access)
- “Election Map 2012: Live Voting Results – KY” — Politico, May 23, 2012 (date of access)
- “Election Map 2012: Live Voting Results – AR” — Politico, May 23, 2012 (date of access)
- Neil Munro. “Democrats shun Obama’s Arkansas challenger” — The Daily Caller, May 18, 2012
- Where Obama-phobia is rampant (salon.com)
- John Wolfe: Meet The Man Who Might Pull An Arkansas Primary Upset, But Probably Won’t (huffingtonpost.com)
- 42 Percent Of Democrat Primary Voters In Kentucky Choose ‘Uncommitted’ Over Obama (thedaleygator.wordpress.com)
- Protest Votes Embarrass Obama in Arkansas, Kentucky (reason.com)