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As midterm nears, Democratic activist sees fewer friendly faces in Arkansas

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 7:53 AM

IN LITTLE ROCK, ARK. When the woman answers the door, the smiling activist waiting on her front stoop asks her if she'll be voting for Democrats this year.

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Yes, Buddie Everett says, she will.

"Great!" says the activist, John Joyce. "Can we put a sign in your yard?"

Sure.

Joyce, smiling even bigger now, goes off to fetch the sign. One more voter solidly in the D column - no small thing in a year and a state like this.

Or, perhaps not.

"Honestly, I'm still kind of wishy-washy," Everett confides once Joyce is out of earshot. "I'm just frustrated, and I don't know if it's the government or what, but it just seems like there are so many horrific things happening right now."

That about sums up what it's like for a Democratic activist this year. At some doors, even once-committed supporters look at their party leaders and words such as "horrific" come to mind.

Joyce is a deep-in-the-bones Democrat who has been walking these neighborhoods and tapping signs into these lawns during campaign seasons for more than 18 years. He's an optimist who looks for signs of hope in every warm handshake and every nod of the head. But the reality this year is that the people behind the doors are less enthusiastic and more skeptical of his party's pitch.

The reception he received recently in a rural neighborhood outside Little Rock was so hostile that he abandoned his efforts after knocking on just a couple of doors.

"I've never seen so many pit bulls in my life," he says.

His enthusiasm masks an undeniable trend: This once reliably Democratic state is steadily turning Republican. A majority of elected officials in Arkansas are still Democrats, but even Joyce acknowledges that the number is misleading. Arkansas was just one of a handful of states where voters supported John McCain in 2008 in greater numbers than they did George W. Bush four years earlier.


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