Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s visit to the UofA drew more than 400 students and attendees from around Northwest Arkansas. As voters from across the region visited to see O’Rourke, they also heard about several local politicians including State Representative Nicole Clowney (D-86), State Representative Denise Garner (D-84), Senate candidate Josh Mahony (D) and congressional candidate Celeste Williams (D). O’Rourke used his name recognition to increase political engagement in a small conservative southern state; he is doing the work to elect democrats where it needs to be done the most.
This is precisely why it is so important for presidential candidates to invest their time in southern states, as Democrats are building the infrastructure to shift Arkansas left politically.
The UA Young Democrats had long been attempting to bring a presidential candidate to the UofA campus to engage young voters. We believed that having a nationally recognized name would encourage students and voters to finally realize that Arkansas is a state where constituents can make changes to unpopular policies and politicians.
Most 2020 candidates flock to Iowa and New Hampshire to appeal to the first people that will be voting in the primaries, but ultimately, only one of the candidates running in the Democratic primary will be on the ballot against the Republican candidate. Many candidates will have spent millions of dollars running losing campaigns in politically-oversaturated areas, but O’Rourke has been creative and innovative. He made a real effect in Arkansas and engaged voters that might not have ever been to a political rally before.
At the event, community members demonstrated a desire to be more politically active, signing up for volunteer positions in local congressional campaigns. Until now, many Arkansans lacked the knowledge and connections to get involved. This community engagement is precisely why more candidates need to visit Arkansas.
This is not to suggest that the single Beto O’Rourke rally will dethrone Arkansas Republicans in one fell blow. There has to be a huge mobilization of volunteers in addition to engaging new voters. National figures like O’Rourke will spark local interest because consistently appealing to the base of support Democrats have in Arkansas hasn’t been working. We need the politically-engaged Arkansans to take issues to their friends and family and start turning the tides.
O’Rourke visiting was recognition that Arkansas is important, and it was a signal that it is worth a candidate’s time to come to smaller southern states. O’Rourke’s time and efforts in Arkansas sent the message that he cares far more about promoting progressive causes, candidates, and creating change than he does about winning a single primary.
Even if Congressman O’Rourke is not your candidate, he proves he cares about every single voter by showing up for them, just as he did when he visited in every county in Texas. O’Rourke demonstrate his belief that every voter is valuable. This is the impression voters get when he visits, and the sentiment may carry over for any other candidates who decide to give the South their time.
Arkansans are important and coveted voters. As progressive candidates are doing the work in their local communities, this kind of national support can bring us to the precipice of creating something more than a minority in our state legislature.
Micah Wallace is the president of the UA Young Democrats.