US Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas fends off challenge from state lawmaker in GOP primary

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., listens to a voice vote on the adoption of the rules during the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack has won the Republican nomination for his seat in northwest Arkansas, fending off a longshot challenge on the right from a state legislator.

Womack, 67, the only one of the state’s four House members who faced a primary challenge on Tuesday, defeated state Sen. Clint Penzo in the 3rd Congressional District. The seven-term congressman will face Democrat Caitlin Draper in the November election.

“Working to secure our border, supporting our men and women in uniform, and promoting the conservative values that made our nation the greatest in the world continues to be among my highest priorities,” Womack said in a statement released by his campaign. “I look forward to the general election and the opportunity to lead the fight against the Biden agenda and restoring the values that define our great nation.”

Womack had the backing of the state’s top Republicans, including Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and was endorsed by conservative groups such as National Right to Life.

He also had an overwhelming financial advantage over Penzo, reporting nearly $2 million on hand for his reelection bid. Penzo reported about $65,000 in the bank.

Penzo 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.

Arkansas State Sen. Clint Penzo speaks at a legislative hearing at the state Capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023. Penzo is challenging U.S. Rep. Steve Womack in the Republican primary for the third congressional district in Arkansas. (AP Photo/Andrew DeMillo)

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.

Womack was first elected to the 3rd District seat in 2010, and is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. He chairs the panel’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.

Womack batted down speculation he wouldn’t run after he told The Washington Post last summer he hadn’t decided whether to seek reelection and vented frustration with dysfunction in Congress. After the interview was published, Womack said he planned to seek reelection.

Womack called the speculation overblown and said he normally waits until Labor Day before making a decision on seeking reelection.