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Arkansas Republicans make historic sweep in election

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Arkansas Republicans on Tuesday night took control of at least one chamber of the state legislature and captured all of the state's congressional seats for the first time since Reconstruction.

Republicans took the majority in the state Senate and will either have a one seat majority or be tied with Democrats in the state House of Representatives, according to election returns.

For decades, Arkansas has been a rare dot of Democratic blue amid Republican red across the legislatures of the South. Until Tuesday's elections, it was the only state in the South where both chambers of the legislature were controlled by Democrats.

"Obviously, this is historic for Arkansas and a real marker of the massive political change that has taken place in the South as a whole over the last several generations," Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas said Tuesday night.

When the legislative session starts in January, Democratic Governor Mike Beebe will have to work with a state Senate controlled for the first time since 1874 by Republicans. And the state House may have an even Republican-Democrat split rather than a Democratic majority, though votes were still being tallied early Wednesday.

It was not just the state legislature that made history. Republicans gained control of all four of the state's congressional seats after Republican Tom Cotton, an Iraq war veteran, defeated a Democrat on Tuesday to pick up a seat that had been vacated by a retiring Democrat.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney easily won Arkansas' six electoral votes, likely helping down-ballot Republicans.

Former President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native, cut radio ads against the three Republicans running for the state legislature, all of whom lost on Tuesday night.

While other Southern states moved to Republicans over the last two decades, Clinton rise to the White House helped keep Arkansas a holdout state.

At the state level in 2010, Republicans picked up three statewide offices, including lieutenant governor. That year - when Republicans were swept into offices across the country - the number of Republican seats in the 100-member Arkansas House of Representatives increased from 28 to 45. In 2011, a Democratic representative switched parties, increasing that number to 46.

"I can only imagine what it would have been like to have had a majority in both houses instead of having a legislature that was 89 percent Democrat when I became governor," former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican and former presidential candidate, told Reuters on Tuesday.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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