This fall, Republicans hope to claim Arkansas’s 4th Congressional District, one of the few Democratic redoubts in the South. Six-term incumbent Mike Ross is retiring, and the state legislature has redrawn the district’s lines to incorporate more Republican-friendly territory. In other words, it’s ripe for a pickup. And newcomer Tom Cotton may be just the man to win it.
The Republican primary has been a hard-fought contest between the 2010 GOP nominee, Beth Anne Rankin, and Cotton, an Iraq War veteran. But in the latest Talk-Business–Hendrix College poll, Cotton has posted an 18-point lead, 51–33, over Rankin. A third candidate, John Cowart, earns only 6 percent. If Cotton wins over 50 percent of the vote, he’ll secure the nomination; if Rankin holds him under that threshold, the race will go to a runoff.
“Obviously, our campaign plan is to win on May 22,” Rankin tells NRO, but “I do think it will be a nail-biter.”
“I wouldn’t venture a prediction; I’m in the candidate’s role, not the pundit’s,” Cotton says. “But we’re certainly working hard every day to turn out our voters. It’s going to be close.”
If there is a runoff, the race will largely focus on the candidates’ personalities, as it has already. “We’ve had seven debates,” Rankin notes. “In these seven debates, we’ve seen two cents on the dollar in terms of variance on the issues. As far as what’s been publicly stated, I don’t see a huge difference between the three candidates.” All three oppose Obamacare, cap-and-trade, and Dodd-Frank, and all three support a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
But Rankin’s campaign has insinuated that Cotton, who’s raised over $890,000, half of which came from donors outside Arkansas, is a carpetbagger. Originally from Dardanelle, Cotton graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School before enlisting in the Army and serving in Iraq. After his deployment, Cotton worked for McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm, in Washington, D.C. When former governor Mike Huckabee, for whom Rankin once worked as an aide, endorsed her in an online ad, he noted that his preferred candidate was “not somebody who just parachuted into the district because she was looking for a way to get to Washington.”
“I’m a people’s candidate,” Rankin argues. “When you run as a people’s candidate, it determines and sculpts where your focus is.” Of the $400,000 she’s raised, Rankin says that 93 percent comes from Arkansas citizens. On Tuesday, Rankin announced that she had received a $25 donation from her 1,000th Arkansan donor.
Nonetheless, Cotton’s campaign has enjoyed strong success. (And he’s raised more money from Arkansas donors than Rankin has.) “It’s a mix of both my past lives and policy,” he explains. “I think the voters appreciate the fact that I left a promising law practice and volunteered to go into the infantry when I had no need to. They think that kind of courage and conviction will serve them well if I’m in Congress. On the policy front, the No. 1 issue I hear is repealing Obamacare because they understand Obamacare is a threat not just to our economy, but to our constitutional liberties.”
As a former Miss Arkansas and congressional candidate, Rankin has ties to the grassroots. But Cotton brings a fresh and compelling résumé to the race. Both have promised to support whoever wins the Republican primary on May 22. And right now, it looks as if that candidate will be Tom Cotton.
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.