- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Republican Sen. John Boozman and his Democratic challenger made their final pitches to Arkansas voters Monday while medical marijuana advocates and opponents relied on a last-minute TV ad blitz on the eve of an election that could make the state the first in the South to legalize the drug.

More than 587,000 people had cast ballots as of late Monday afternoon, which is more than a third of the state’s 1.7 million registered voters. Elections officials predict that Arkansas will have 70 percent voter turnout.

Although Democrat Hillary Clinton was Arkansas’ first lady for 12 years while her husband was governor, the state has veered to the right over the years and is expected to deliver its six electoral votes to Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday.

Conner Eldridge, the former federal prosecutor hoping to unseat Boozman, remained optimistic about his chances despite polls that showed him trailing Boozman by double digits.

“We’re continuing to work up until the last minute to meet as many Arkansas voters as we can to ask for their support and more importantly hear their voice so I can go to Washington and represent them,” Eldridge said as he campaigned in central Arkansas.

Boozman, who has outspent and outraised Eldridge, said he wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“We’re going to run through the finish line. We’ve worked really hard,” said Boozman, who spent the day in western Arkansas.

Medical marijuana has become the hottest issue of the election in Arkansas, where voters narrowly rejected a similar initiative four years ago and polls show them narrowly divided over the issue.

Half of the states have legalized medical marijuana. Some Southern states allow certain types of patients access to a form of the drug that is low in THC, which gives marijuana its high. But none have legalized the regular form of the drug, though voters in Florida are also considering doing so Tuesday.

Supporters of Arkansas’ proposal, known as Issue 6, have said they hoped its passage in a deeply Republican state could spur more action at the federal level and show that support for medical marijuana cuts across party lines.

“That I think gives people in Congress the chance to realize this is much more than a blue progressive issue,” said David Couch, the head of Arkansans United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind Issue 6.

The measure has faced heavy opposition from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and a coalition of groups that includes the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Farm Bureau. State Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe, the spokesman for the coalition, said it’s tried to stay focused on the measure’s impact on Arkansas and not the national implications.

“If we legalize marijuana tomorrow and that furthers this national wave, that’s unfortunate and if we stop it tomorrow and it hinders that national progression, then that’s obviously something I would applaud,” Bledsoe said. “But that’s a peripheral issue in my mind.”


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