Arkansas may still be Clinton country, but it's no longer Democratic terrain.
Former President Clinton won five gubernatorial elections in Arkansas and carried the state twice as a presidential candidate. But he was only holding back a Republican tide.
As in the rest of the South, Democrats in Arkansas have steadily drifted to the GOP the past four decades. Democrats hold key state offices in Arkansas, including both Senate seats, but those officeholders tend to be from Clinton's centrist wing of the party. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search), a fourth-term Massachusetts senator with no ties to the South, is more easily cast as a liberal by Republicans.
Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, lost to then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush (search) by 5 percentage points in 2000, a surprisingly weak showing for a former senator from neighboring Tennessee,
Some Democrats blamed Gore for not allowing Clinton to campaign harder in Arkansas. Others privately acknowledged that the political shifts in the state had finally swept away the Democratic advantage, even for Clinton and a fellow Southerner.
Kerry put Arkansas on his target list in the spring, pledging to compete against President Bush throughout the South. But he has not visited the state since May, and stopped airing ads in Arkansas weeks ago.
Kerry is focusing his time and money on GOP-leaning states that are more competitive, such as Ohio, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Colorado. Bush's re-election team followed suit by withdrawing its own ads and moving eight staff members from Arkansas to Colorado and Florida.
Some Democrats hold out hope that Kerry will make a last-minute play for the state, cranking up negative ads against Bush and using Clinton to rally Democrats.
Clinton, who opens his presidential library in Little Rock next month, is recovering from heart surgery. The Kerry campaign is already making plans to use him in battleground states if he gets healthy enough.
BY THE NUMBERS:
6 — Electoral votes.
13 — Arkansas soldiers killed in Iraq.
22 — Churches per 10,000 people, fourth highest rate in the nation behind North Dakota, West Virginia and South Dakota.
3.25 million — Chickens slaughtered each day — an average of 37 every second.
— "I like his policies better, he comes across better and I trust him." — Kim Fowler, 27, speaking of Bush as she updated her voter registration at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock.
— "I was for this ticket but I still was worried about whether they had the appeal. They have the appeal. It isn't so much what appealed to me about the message itself, as that I believe what he said." — Leslie Middleton, a retired lawyer from North Little Rock, after a John Edwards appearance.
Kerry last visited May 12, when he appeared at a rally with retired Gen. and former Democratic rival Wesley Clark of Little Rock.
Until Richard Nixon in 1972, the only Republican to win Arkansas was Ulysses S. Grant, during Reconstruction 100 years earlier.
WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:
If former President Clinton, an Arkansas native, recovers enough from heart surgery to campaign for Kerry and others, voter turnout could climb and benefit Democrats.
A ballot initiative to ban gay marriage is expected to draw large numbers of conservatives to the polls, which would benefit Bush.
IN ARKANSAS FOUR YEARS AGO:
Bush defeated Gore by 50,000 votes out of 918,000 cast, winning big in northwestern Arkansas and also having the edge in 14 counties outside Arkansas' most conservative corner. Gore led among voters who approved of Clinton's job performance but not his character.