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The race for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court is technically nonpartisan, but the close ties of one of the two main candidates to the state Republican Party — she's married to its leader — highlight just how partisan such campaigns have become, with outside conservative groups outspending the candidates themselves.

Barbara Webb, chief administrative law judge for the Arkansas Workers Compensation Commission and the wife of the state Republican Party chairman, is running against Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan “Chip” Welch in the March 3 election.

Although both candidates have been promising to be independent voices if elected to the court, Welch has been making noise about Webb's appeals to Republicans and speeches to GOP gatherings around the state. She's had public support from top Republican leaders, including Sen. Tom Cotton and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, and one of Webb's campaign mailings features a photo of GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

“It hadn't escaped my notice that party politics is the family business,” Welch said recently. “It is some concern to me. I noticed that she's pretty much talking to an echo chamber of one political party.”

Webb and Welch are running for the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Jo Hart, and whoever wins will be elected to an eight year term. The court has angered conservatives in recent years with rulings blocking part of the state's plan to execute eight inmates in quick succession in 2017 and disqualifying a GOP-backed 2018 ballot measure that sought to cap the amount of damages that could be awarded in lawsuits.

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