US Rep. Steve Womack aims to fend off primary challenge from Arkansas state lawmaker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack faces a longshot challenge in Tuesday’s Arkansas primary from a state legislator who has cited the messy fight over House speaker last year as a reason for challenging the incumbent.

Womack, 67, faces state Sen. Clint Penzo in the GOP primary for northwest Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, and is the only one of the state’s four House members facing a primary challenge. The winner of Tuesday’s race will face Democrat Cailin Draper in November.

Womack was first elected to the seat in 2010 and is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. Penzo has served in the state Senate since 2023 and served two terms in the Arkansas House before that.

Womack easily won reelection to the seat two years ago, and heads into the primary with several advantages over Penzo. Womack has the backing of the state’s top Republicans, the endorsement of key conservative groups and has far outpaced Penzo in fundraising.

Penzo has tried to portray Womack as not conservative enough for the district. He criticized Womack for opposing Rep. Jim Jordan’s unsuccessful bid to replace ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Womack instead voted for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who withdrew his bid after facing opposition from GOP hardliners. Womack ultimately voted for Mike Johnson, who was elected speaker.

Womack at the time called his support for Scalise a matter of principle. Scalise has campaigned in northwest Arkansas for Womack’s reelection bid.

Womack has dismissed Penzo’s criticism, noting his support for Johnson. He’s said he decided to run for reelection to his seat to focus on several issues, including border security and the deficit.

Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press

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