LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Fellow Republicans Leslie Rutledge and John Burris faced the same problem in Arkansas’ primary runoff, fending off mailers and TV ads that tried to paint them as allies of a Democratic president they’ve repeatedly criticized. But the outcomes were sharply different, with Rutledge winning the GOP’s nomination for attorney general and Burris losing his bid for a state Senate seat. Tuesday’s runoff highlighted a new challenge for Republicans as they aim for a takeover of Arkansas’ top offices — primary fights that are marked by anti-Obama attacks that had normally been reserved for the general election. Rutledge, a former lawyer for the Republican National Committee, was targeted by a barrage of mail pieces and television ads that tried to portray her as soft on gun rights and aligned with President Barack Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. Burris, a state representative, was cast as a cheerleader of the law he derides as “Obamacare” after he helped craft the state’s compromise expansion of Medicaid health care for the poor. Rutledge, who defeated David Sterling in the runoff, said she and her campaign made a point of returning calls from voters who called to criticize her after seeing ads by an outside group dinging her for not matching her opponent’s advocacy of a “Stand Your Ground” law. Rutledge said those calls usually turned voters in her favor once she told them that state law already allows the use of deadly force in self-defense. “Those ads were just so confusing and over the top that I think it just sent a strong message that Arkansans aren’t going to put up with that,” Rutledge said Wednesday. “It was the worst of dirty politics we had seen in this state in a primary.” Voter backlash to attacks wasn’t enough for Burris, who was defeated by Scott Flippo in the GOP runoff for state Senate District 17 in North Arkansas. Flippo, an assisted living facility owner, and an outside group, repeatedly criticized Burris for his role as a key architect of the state’s “private option” plan to use federal Medicaid funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. The plan was approved last year as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under Obama’s federal health law and was touted by some as a model for Republican-led states. Flippo described his victory as a message from voters about a program he regularly said was no different from the president’s health care law. “I think the voters in District 17 and across Arkansas have clearly spoken and they are not happy with Medicaid expansion, they’re not happy with expanding a broken system,” Flippo said. “For us to govern as conservatives we have to understand we have to govern with fiscal responsibility and accountability.” Burris, who was on leave as political director U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton’s Senate campaign, said he didn’t view his loss as a referendum on the program and noted that there were issues raised in the runoff campaign. “I think there are some that certainly want to call it a referendum on one policy, but in the race I was attacked heavily on many fronts,” Burris said. Geography and other dynamics also played a role in the different outcomes. Rutledge was running in a statewide race and had the backing of establishment Republicans who viewed her as the best chance in the November general election against Democratic nominee Nate Steel, a state representative. There’s no Democrat running this fall for the state Senate seat, which covers three rural, conservative counties in the Ozarks. Hendrix Political Science Professor Jay Barth said the difference between the two anti-Obama approaches in the runoff also came down to how crediblyvoters viewed the attacks. Linking Rutledge to Obama and Pelosi over Stand Your Ground didn’t carry as far as the private option, which has more sharply divided Republicans in the state. “It was not stretched to the point of breaking the string,” Barth said. “It was at least still a logical link there that was absent in the attacks on Rutledge.” (© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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