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

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack faces a challenge in Tuesday’s primary in Arkansas from a state lawmaker who has cited last year’s messy battle for speaker of the House of Representatives as a reason to challenge the incumbent president.

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

Womack was first elected in 2010 and is a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee. Penzo has served in the Senate since 2023 and previously served two terms in the Arkansas House.

Womack easily won re-election to the seat two years ago and enters the primary with several advantages over Penzo. Womack has the backing of the state’s top Republicans, the backing of key conservative groups and has far surpassed 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 failed 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 Republican hardliners. Womack ultimately voted for Mike Johnson, who was elected chairman.

At the time, Womack 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 and pointed to his support for Johnson. He says he decided to run for re-election to focus on several issues, including border security and the deficit.