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LITTLE ROCK — Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill won reelection Tuesday to his Arkansas seat, overcoming a challenge from a Democratic state senator who had hoped to become the state’s first Black member of Congress.
Hill defeated Joyce Elliott in the race for the central Arkansas seat he has held since 2015. The seven-county district includes Little Rock.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to continue my service in central Arkansas,” Hill told The Associated Press Tuesday night. “It’s a humbling obligation and I appreciate the chance to represent all the families of central Arkansas.”
Elliott didn’t concede the race late Tuesday, citing votes she said remained to be counted in Democrat-heavy Pulaski County, where Little Rock is located.
“Let me be clear, this race is not over, and I have not called French Hill to concede,” she said in a statement. “Voters deserve to have their voices heard and their votes counted.”
The AP determined, however, that even with the remaining uncounted vote in Pulaski County, Elliott would not be able to catch Hill. At a news conference on Wednesday, Elliott said she would concede the race but demanded that Pulaski County election officials count all ballots.
As of Wednesday morning, unofficial results for the race were:
- French Hill — 55.07% — 175,333 votes
- Joyce Elliott — 44.93% — 143,052 votes
Hill launched his campaign with an ad touting the coronavirus relief Arkansas had received. But he increasingly went after Elliott, portraying her as too liberal for the district.
Elliott had outraised Hill in the two quarters leading up to the election and the race drew spending from outside groups on both sides.
Elliott has served in the state Senate since 2009 and before that served three terms in the House.
This year marked at least the third time over the past decade that Democrats called the district winnable, in part because of urban Little Rock’s diversity and youth, despite a further lurch to the right in mostly rural Arkansas.
Two years ago, the party’s nominee for the seat focused on his battle against cancer as he criticized Hill’s votes against the Affordable Care Act.
Elliott emphasized her experience as a teacher, and said her election would extend the state’s civil rights legacy. Unlike past nominees, she didn’t distance herself from national Democratic figures, instead touting endorsements from Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama, and regularly criticized Hill for supporting Trump’s tax cuts. Elliott also had the endorsement of former Gov. Mike Beebe who appeared in an online ad for her.
Hill tried to align himself closely with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is generally popular in Arkansas and who appeared in a campaign ad for the congressman. He relied on other GOP figures in the final days of the campaign, including Sen. Tom Cotton and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who headlined events for him.
David Caruthers, a 59-year-old truck driver, said he voted for Hill and was motivated primarily by his opposition to abortion rights. Hill regularly criticized Elliott’s votes against abortion restrictions in the Legislature.
“If you believe in abortion, I’m not voting for you,” Caruthers said.
Kourtland Jackson, 28, said he voted for Elliott and cited her background as a former teacher.
“I saw some of my former teachers in her, where she really wanted to leave an impact,” said Jackson, a driver for Amazon.
During the campaign, Hill also criticized Elliott for supporting a cellphone fee increase to pay for 911 improvements, a measure that won near-unanimous support in the Republican Legislature and that Hutchinson signed into law.
Democrats complained about a Facebook ad and mailer from Hill that portrayed Elliott as a “radical liberal,” featuring a photo of Elliott with a fist in the air. The ads invoked violence at some demonstrations protesting police brutality this year, but the photo was of Elliott at a rally last year for striking teachers.
(All contents © copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.)