After declaring his candidacy on August 7, Cotton took only eleven days to qualify for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program: He raised $342,000 in the third quarter, during which he was active for two months. It was a new record: the most an Arkansas candidate — Republican or Democrat, incumbent or challenger — had raised in his first quarter ever. With $331,000 in cash on hand, Cotton is accumulating the resources necessary for a serious campaign.
He also is accumulating rivals. Beth Anne Rankin, who ran as the Republican candidate against Ross in 2010, wants a do-over. The former Miss Arkansas boasts high name recognition because of her previous campaign, but she did lose to Ross by 17 points, 57–40. Still, as a former policy adviser to ex-governor Mike Huckabee, Rankin can count on his support. “I am absolutely endorsing her and will actively help her,” Huckabee writes in an email to NRO. “She is a terrific candidate and seasoned campaigner who has spent most all of her life in the fourth district.”
Huckabee’s endorsement may be underwhelming. In 2010, he endorsed Scott Wallace in a primary against the eventual Republican nominee for the 2nd district, Rep. Tim Griffin, and Wallace lost by 24 points, 62–38. Despite speculations among Arkansas pols that Griffin would endorse Cotton, Griffin tells NRO that he’ll stay neutral in the primary.
Even so, Rankin herself recently qualified for the Young Guns program: She raised $170,000 in the third quarter. And she can charm a crowd. “She can walk into a restaurant and make every person in the place feel like her friend,” says Jason Tolbert, a columnist for Talk Business. Cotton, on the other hand, is “a more serious personality — what you would expect for a former military guy.”
Also in the race is small-business owner Marcus Richmond, who’s hitting the right notes with tea partiers. “At this point, we are most interested in finding out from these candidates which ones really understand the threat the U.N. poses to America’s sovereignty,” says Diane Silverman, chairwoman of the Garland County Tea Party. “I’m sure that most candidates really do care about that issue, but the one who did speak out about it was Marcus Richmond.”
Arkansas pundits believe Cotton is the strongest of the three candidates, but his impressive résumé — and the attention it’s won him — has stoked some resentment in certain corners. “There’s a feeling on the ground that Washington is trying to pick our candidate for us,” says Alan Clark, chairman of the Garland County GOP. “And I think it’s going to lead to a backlash against Tom.”
Clark adds, however, that if Cotton wins the primary, “I’ll be 100 percent behind him.” And it’s easy to see why: The 4th district is ripe for a Republican pickup. And a thoughtful, conservative war veteran isn’t the worst candidate you could think of.
— Brian Bolduc is a reporter for National Review Online.