Arkansas Protest Votes Against Obama Are Going to an Occupy Supporter

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When Arkansas Democrats issue their protest vote against President Obama's liberal agenda -- and polls show a significant number will -- they'll be voting for a guy who calls himself a "progressive," who is campaigning against Wall Street and the Pentagon, and who ran some kind of ad against Newt Gingrich defending the Palestinian people. In other words, they'll be voting for a lefty -- what kind of protest vote is that?

Two weeks ago, 40 percent of West Virginia Democrats voted for Keith Judd, a perennial presidential candidate who's been in Texas prison for more than a decade. Arkansas voting Tuesday in the presidential primary look ready to embarrass Obama too. Recent polls from Talk Business/ Hendrix College have showed John Wolfe, a Tennessee lawyer running in Arkansas' primary against Obama, polling better than one might expect. Wolfe is getting 38 percent to Obama's 45 percent in the state's Fourth District, and 24 percent to Obama's 65 percent in the state's First District. Not bad for a guy who can't even run in his home state because he has an unpaid $10,000 fine for not filling out all his financial disclosure forms when he ran for state senate in 2007.

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There have been little hints as to why Arkansas might vote against Obama, but some of the theories are hard to believe. The Washington Post reports a theory from a local Democrat, for example:

"Arkansas voters are informed voters and are fully aware that John Wolfe will not make it out of the primary," said one well-connected Arkansas Democrat. "However, if John Wolfe has a strong showing tomorrow, it’s a sign that Democratic voters in Arkansas are frustrated with the administration’s policies and further reiteration that Southern Democrats simply cannot identify with President Obama."

Saying Obama's policies are don't fit with Southern Democrats implies they're too liberal. But if voters are so well-informed, surely they know Wolfe is running against Obama from the left? A slogan in his web ad says, "Peace and Prosperity, Not War and Austerity." His campaign home page pledges allegiance to Occupy Wall Street. "The interests of the Pentagon, Wall Street, and corporations have dominated Obama’s administration. And loyal Americans, taxpayers and small businesses are paying a heavy price as a result," he writes. "The Occupy movement, which has spread to every state in the country, erupted because of the overwhelming inequality that exists between the excesses of Wall Street and the average taxpayer." In an online interview, when asked if Obama had done anything right as president, Wolfe issued talking points that would be at home at the Republican National Committee Paul Krugman's comment sections: "Well, I think it was good doing away with don't ask, don't tell. I think the stimulus was a good start but it wasn't very effective because it wasn't enough."

So there are plenty of differences between the political stances of Obama and Wolfe. But no one is writing any stories about how Wolfe shows that Arkansas -- one of the few states where the Republican share of the presidential vote increased between 2004 and 2008 -- is clamoring for a crackdown on Wall Street and tax increases on the rich. So, what could be the difference?

Ouachita Baptist University political scientist Hal Bass has an idea: "I don't think you can ignore race, but I would say there's a broader cultural factor that is more pertinent," he told NPR. To voters in the rural state, Bass says, Obama is a "very urban, very urbane individual." But if these voters are looking for some cultural affirmation, they won't get it from Wolfe. Wolfe told the Chattanooga Times-Free Press in December that he hasn't done well in his hometown because it's "the red buckle of the Bible belt." That's right -- the candidate openly scorns his own people. 

The Post gently suggests race might have something to do with Obama's low majority in polls. Politico's Charlie Mahtesian implies that too when he explains that Obama will probably do better in Arkansas than he did in West Virginia because there are more black voters in Arkansas. ("In three other nearby states where Obama’s standing is weak – such as Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee – the president still won at least 77 percent because black voters cast a higher percentage of Democratic primary votes than in West Virginia or Oklahoma," he writes.)

Even though Wolfe does not present a more economically or culturally conservative version of the Democratic Party's platform, he's becoming a bit of a folk hero on the right. Big Government's John Nolte sees a conspiracy among media elites to silence Wolfe. That's in collaboration with Democrats, who say even if Wolfe performs well Tuesday, he won't get any delegates to the Democratic National Convention. "They want a coronation,” Wolfe complained to the Weekly Standard, which has interviewed him multiple times. "Are we supposed to call him 'Dear Leader'? Is this some kind of North Korea thing?" Well no, it's actually a paperwork thing. Wolfe himself admitted to a local news site that he hadn't met the state's February 20 filing deadline to qualify for delegates.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.