JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - President Barack Obama secured 58 percent of the votes in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Arkansas, but his challenger – a relative unknown – took in 41 percent.
The surprising support for John Wolfe, a Tennessee lawyer, is the latest reminder of the president's struggles in Southern primaries. Those who track politics say, however, that this will have little impact in November.
"You look at Arkansas and its conservatism, and obviously Barack Obama's not going to win Arkansas," said William McLean, an associate political science professor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. "He's didn't win it last time. He's not going to win it this time. He's not campaigning actively in Arkansas because he knows this."
McLean says Obama experienced one of his largest losses in Arkansas during the 2008 primary and general election, and one local supporter takes this recent primary incident as a sign to work harder.
"I didn't ask one person to vote for Barack Obama because I didn't even really know that anyone was running against him," Jan Paschal said, "and I think that's the issue."
Paschal previously served as president of the Arkansas Federation of Democratic Women. She says she was surprised to see the amount of support given to Wolfe, an almost unknown candidate hoping to unseat the president.
"He is not someone that Arkansas or Jackson County knows or believes in," Paschal said, "and I believe in November that Arkansas will be believing in Barack Obama."
The Tennessee-based lawyer received 41 percent of the votes, beating Obama in almost every county in Northeast Arkansas. In Paschal's own Jackson County, Wolfe garnered 904 votes compared to the 686 for Obama. The president, though, still clinched the race, capturing 58 percent.
"I think it's a protest vote," McLean said, "because, in the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure anyone knows who John Wolfe is."
McLean says Wolfe's momentary success highlights a growing dissatisfaction with the president's performance.
"All the economic models and everything would suggest that there's no way that Barack Obama can win again," McLean said, "yet it seems that most of the pundits don't necessarily think that Mitt Romney can beat him."
Obama has seen support dwindle in Southern primaries recently. According to USA Today, Obama carried only 58 percent of the vote in the Kentucky Democratic primary on Tuesday – against 42 percent of the "uncommitted" delegates to the national convention. Two weeks ago, a federal prisoner in Texas racked up 41 percent of the vote against Obama in the West Virginia primary.
Paschal, however, sees these results as a challenge to better promote the president's message locally.
"They were sending us a message – get up, get out, tell us what we need to know and tell us why you believe in Barack Obama," Paschal said. "I'm going to tell them, and I know everyone else will too."
An Arkansas Democratic Party spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the national party will not recognize any delegates Wolfe might claim at the national convention.
Region 8 News reached out to Wolfe on Wednesday, but he did not return our request for comment.