LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) –
At home, two-term Republican Senator John Boozman is known as a modest figure who almost speaks in a whisper and is more comfortable chatting about politics or the University of Arkansas Razorbacks’ football record than giving fiery speeches.
But you would not know if you turned on the television recently.
“John Boozman has always stood up against the gun-wielding liberals in Washington,” a local sheriff said in a Boozman ad. In another, Republican Senator Tom Cotton praises Boozman as “our conservative fighter.” Boozman promises to complete the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico that Donald Trump promised.
The sharper tone is Boozman’s efforts to deal with an awkward problem as he seeks re-election in a Republican stronghold that Trump won overwhelmingly two years ago: Conservative voters are reluctant to Trump without power, and GOP candidates are expected to sound stubbornly crazy about that.
Boozman said the ads are inconsistent with his low-key style and that he only focuses on concerns he hears from voters.
“These are the things people think about, so what we’re trying to do is address these issues and help them understand that we’re at the forefront of working hard to get something done,” Boozman said. “I’m not an individual who screams and shouts. I’m an individual who gets started and gets results.”
But savagery just does not come naturally to Boozman. His more combative friends gather to help with that.
“He’s not drawing attention to himself,” Republican strategist Bill Vickery said of the 71-year-old ophthalmologist and former Razorbacks football player. “He lets just like his record speak for itself.”
In GOP-led states, even Republicans with seemingly secure seats try to ward off any perception that they are insufficiently loyal to the former president. Such concerns have already prompted Trump to withdraw his support for Mo Brooks in the Alabama Senate race and have driven him to support an attempt to oust Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in this state’s primary election.
Boozman has received Trump’s approval along with backing from top Republican figures in Arkansas. That includes Sarah Sanders, the party’s likely candidate for governor, who was Trump’s press secretary. Boozman has also been approved by the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life.
His main rival in the May 24 primary is Jake Bequette, a former NFL and Razorbacks player who served in the Army and has appeared frequently on Fox News. Bequette’s fundraising has pale in comparison to Boozman’s, but he’s backed by a super-political action committee backed by shipping chief Richard Uihlein.
“I think in this political environment, people in Arkansas and America First patriots around the country, they want conservative warriors,” Bequette said.
Boozman’s other GOP challengers include Jan Morgan, a former TV reporter and conservative activist who has often appeared on the State Capitol to push for a ban on vaccine mandates and for looser gun laws.
Both have regularly attacked Boozman as RINO – Republican In Name Only – although the incumbent voted more than 91% of the time with Trump, according to the website FiveThirtyEight. Boozman has voted with President Joe Biden 34% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s statement, and his challengers say it’s too often.
One of the main areas of attack is Boozman’s decision not to challenge Biden’s victory in the 2020 election despite Trump’s lies that the election was stolen. Boozman’s rivals have also criticized the senator for saying Trump bore “some responsibility” for the January 6 uprising in the Capitol. Boozman voted to acquit Trump during the trial.
Boozman said he does not believe Trump bears direct responsibility for the riots, and he has called the House committee, which is investigating Jan. 6, a “partisan arcade.” Boozman said he remains committed to Trump and will support him for the 2024 presidency.
“I know, if he were president now, we would be in a much better position than having President Biden,” Boozman said.
Since there is almost no public poll available, there are few signs indicating problems for Boozman. The established power has grown its rivals and covered the state with ads, including the one with Cotton, a potential candidate in the White House in 2024. Two super PACs supporting Boozman have recently started broadcasting TV commercials.
Boozman has focused on agriculture and veterans issues during his time in the Senate, topics that are not suitable for viral videos or fire speakers, but which are crucial in this predominantly rural state. He stands in line to lead the Senate’s powerful committee on agriculture, nutrition and forestry if the GOP gains control of the Senate this fall.
Boozman compared his approach to the football coaches he said had influenced him the most in school.
“They did not just scream and shout. They put game plans in place and worked towards a common goal of getting things done instead of just screaming about it,” Boozman said.