State lawmaker in GOP primary challenges Republican Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas

Months after quashing rumors of his retirement, Republican U.S. Representative Steve Womack has officially announced his candidacy for reelection. The seasoned politician will be facing off against a state lawmaker who aims to paint him as insufficiently conservative for the district in northwest Arkansas.

67-year-old Womack is going up against state Sen. Clint Penzo in the upcoming GOP primary for the 3rd Congressional District. Womack holds a significant edge in the race with endorsements from top Republicans in the state, such as Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as well as the backing of conservative organizations like National Right to Life.

The seven-term congressman has surpassed Penzo in fundraising, accumulating almost $2 million for his reelection campaign. Penzo, who declared his candidacy in November, only has a small portion of that amount available. The winning candidate in the primary will go up against Democrat Caitlin Draper in the November election.

Womack fueled speculation about his potential decision not to run for reelection when he expressed uncertainty during an interview with The Washington Post last summer. He also expressed frustration with the dysfunction in Congress. However, shortly after the interview was published, Womack clarified his intentions and announced his plan to seek reelection.

According to Womack, the speculation is exaggerated and he typically waits until Labor Day to decide whether to run for re-election.

“I still have a burning desire and believe that I have something valuable to contribute in addressing some of the most significant challenges of our era,” Womack shared with The Associated Press in a recent interview. “These challenges span a wide range, including the issues of deficit and debt, border security, the global geopolitical landscape, and the rise of adversarial forces that pose a threat to the sovereignty of the United States.”

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Womack is confident in his ability to tackle these challenges due to his seniority and prominent position in Washington. Having been elected in 2010, Womack holds a senior role in the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the subcommittee responsible for Financial Services and General Government.

In 2022, Womack secured a decisive victory in the predominantly Republican district, receiving over 63% of the vote during his reelection campaign. It’s worth noting that Republicans currently occupy all four of the state’s U.S. House seats. However, Womack stands out as the sole candidate facing a primary challenge on Tuesday.

Penzo, who did not respond to interview requests, has raised doubts about the lawmaker’s conservative credentials in the race. Upon announcing his candidacy, the state senator criticized Womack, claiming that he had “lost touch” with his district.

In his campaign announcement, Penzo emphasized that he is a conservative fighter who can be trusted, highlighting the difference between himself and Steve Womack. He proudly stated, “I have stood firm and remained true to my principles without wavering.”

Penzo, who has been a member of the state Senate since 2023 and previously served two terms in the Arkansas House, has been vocal in his criticism of Womack’s stance on Rep. Jim Jordan’s unsuccessful bid to replace ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Womack, in contrast to Penzo, voted for House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who withdrew his bid due to opposition from GOP hardliners. Eventually, Womack supported Mike Johnson, who was elected as the new speaker.

At the time, Womack defended his support for Scalise as a matter of principle and brushed off Penzo’s criticism regarding the Jordan vote.

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“We selected Mike Johnson as the speaker, a committed conservative who embodies conservative principles in every aspect. He is tasked with the challenge of navigating a highly fragmented conference, which resulted in the removal of Kevin McCarthy,” he explained.

Womack expressed his desire to collaborate with Johnson in advancing his priorities. However, he emphasized the need to acknowledge the limited majority that his party currently holds in the House.

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