LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — State Sen. Clint Penzo on Monday said he’ll challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Womack in the Republican primary next year for a northwest Arkansas congressional district.
Penzo filed paperwork with the state to run for the 3rd District seat that Womack was first elected to in 2010. Penzo, a real estate agent from Springdale, was elected to the state Senate last year and previously served three terms in the Arkansas House.
Penzo criticized Womack as not conservative enough for the district, saying the incumbent congressman “lost touch” with his constituents.
“The difference between Steve Womack and me is that I told the voters I would be a conservative fighter they could trust, and I have stood firm. I haven’t changed,” Penzo said in a news release.
Womack’s reelection campaign has more than $2 million cash on hand and he has the support of the state’s top Republicans. After Penzo said earlier this month that he was considering challenging the incumbent lawmaker, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Sen. Tom Cotton and Sen. John Boozman endorsed Womack’s reelection bid.
“Elections are about choices and are a contest of ideas. That’s the genius of America,” Womack said in a statement after Penzo launched his bid. “I’m proud to live in a country where the people get to decide. I will always do what I think is right, take care of my district, and be focused on our national security.”
Womack easily won reelection last year in the heavily Republican district with more than 63% of the vote.
Penzo 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 called his vote for Scalise “matter of principle.”
“He defeated Mr. Jordan in our conference vote and then was promptly kneecapped before he could win over his opponents,” Womack said at the time.
Caitlin Draper, a social worker, is running as a Democrat for Womack’s seat. Tuesday is the last day for candidates to qualify for the ballot in Arkansas.