Josh Mahony, who was the only Democratic candidate, announced on Nov. 12 he was withdrawing his candidacy.
“After exhaustive and careful examination with our legal counsel and our party leaders and without additional information from Mr. Mahony, the Democratic Party of Arkansas will not be able to field a candidate for United States Senate,” said Chairman Michael John Gray in a statement.
Because the decision came hours before the filing deadline, Democrats couldn’t field another candidate unless Mahony withdrew due to “serious illness,” as outlined in Arkansas Code 7-7-106.
Gray said party officials have been trying to speak with Mahony but he hasn’t provided details pertaining to the withdrawal.
“The statute clearly delineates the reasons; moving out of state, death or a serious illness. We have not been presented, nor have we been able to find any evidence to support any claim of a serious illness that would allow us to replace the candidate on the ballot,” Gray told reporters at the party’s headquarters.
A lawyer for Mahony said the reason for the withdrawal was a family health issue.
Annie Depper, an attorney for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the Arkansas code might let another candidate run even if Mahony himself wasn’t ill.
“It doesn’t say whether it has to be the candidate or it could be a family member,” she said about the “serious illness.”
The Republican Party of Arkansas has said it will file a lawsuit if Democrats try to replace Mahony.
“It’d be a long shot,” Gray said. “However, absent any information, we don’t even have the opportunity to pursue long shots.”
Mark Henry, Mahony’s lawyer, told the paper that the party doesn’t need information. “I don’t understand why they would need to explore the facts on an untested legal theory,” Henry said.
Gray said that the party would focus on candidates in other races.
“The narrow legal window to replace Mr. Mahony as our nominee would require evidence that has not been provided to us publicly or privately. But Arkansas Democrats aren’t discouraged. There are top tier candidates in competitive state legislative and congressional races all across the state. Voters are ready to make a difference and make Arkansas a better place,” he said in the statement.
Cotton, the 42-year-old incumbent, was first elected in 2014. He won with 56.5 percent of the vote, unseating Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor, who got just under 40 percent of the vote.