Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Race of the Day- Arkansas U.S. Senate

Arkansas U.S. Senate

97 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Safe Republican

At one point, even as the south was moving towards the GOP, Democrats still held a tremendous amount of power in Arkansas. The post Clinton years though have seen a dramatic shift and the state party is now about as weak as anywhere in the country. Republicans dominate the state and this year, the Senate race may literally be no contest.

Democrats simply will not have a candidate on the ballot for this office. A non-profit executive named Josh Mahony, who got blown out in a 2018 Congressional race, was supposed to be the party's statewide sacrificial lamb, but he decided last November not to bother. Allegedly, the campaign of GOP incumbent Tom Cotton had some opposition research on him, that they held until after the filing deadline. This meant that Democrats would be unable to replace him as a candidate. If true, surely a function of hardball politics, but that is the way the game is played.

Some on the left have decided to support liberal activist Dan Whitfield, who is running as an Independent. He stands no chance of winning this race, but also may not be able to make it to the ballot. His efforts to collect signatures to appear on the November ballot have been complicated due to the pandemic. Whitfield's case is currently under appeal in the federal court system, so it remains to be seen if he will be an option. If not, those who want to vote against Cotton can always go Libertarian.

There may be a lot of Arkansans who would like the chance to vote against Cotton and many others throughout the country as the freshman Senator has recently become quite a lightning rod. He happens to have a very impressive biography though and at the age of 43 clearly has high ambitions set for himself. Cotton grew up in rural Arkansas and graduated from Harvard with honors. After law school at the same university, he set aside a promising legal career to enlist in the Army. He said he had decided to one day fight in combat while watching the 9/11 terrorist attacks unfold. He spent five years in active service, including Iraq and Afghanistan and received such medals as the Bronze Star.

He first gained attention in political circles during his military career when he wrote a letter to the New York Times that was highly critical of them regarding espionage laws. Ironically, an op-Ed he would publish as a Senator in the New York Times regarding using the military to put down violent protests became highly controversial in 2020 and led to much consternation in the paper over whether or not it should have been printed.

Some first wanted Cotton to run for the Senate in 2010, but he decided to wait. In 2014 however he won election to the U.S. House. Upon arriving as a freshman, the pressure continued for him to run statewide and he decided to challenge two term incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor, the scion of a famous political family in the state. The 2014 election was not even close. It was a GOP year and Arkansas was not fond of the policies of Barack Obama. Cotton unseated the incumbent by over 17 points. On the trail, his intellect and drive were noted, but many also commented that he was somewhat aloof and did not exactly have the warm image of a backslapping pol.

Considering his long-held views on foreign policy, it was somewhat surprising when Cotton emerged as a close ally of the isolationist Donald Trump. At times, Cotton has been mentioned for various high ranking Trump Administration positions, including the top job at the Pentagon, but he seems to be thinking his current post will be a better launching spot for the post-Trump years. He has also made a name for himself as one of the Senate top advocates of limiting legal immigration, a position that is shared by many fans of Trump.

With his Senate reelection all but reassured, many expect that Cotton is planning to jump into the 2024 Republican Presidential fray. While some look at someone like his Senate colleague Ted Cruz as being somewhat disingenuous or political, Cotton is viewed as a true believer. He would stand to perhaps be one of the candidates who can best claim the mantle of Trumpism. Just how popular will Trumpism still be in the party or in the country though after this current election? Also, it is hard to see how comfortable Cotton may be, post-pandemic, introducing himself to small groups of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire as tradition dictates. Then again, Iowa is probably done for thanks to the Democrats.

Recently, Cotton has advocated using the military to put down protests and has made some odd comments about slavery having been viewed by the Founding Fathers as a "necessary evil." While I do not think that remark is indicative of Cotton approving the practice of slavery, he sure did seem to minimize the moral damage it did to the country.

There is much to admire about Cotton's pre-Congressional career and when he first ran for the Senate, I imagined he would be one of the lawmakers I most often agreed with. Times have changed though and I hope the GOP will not be going further in his direction the next time the Presidency is on the line.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

1 D (1 Lean) 
3 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Lean)

Total with predictions thus far:

36 Democrats (35 holdovers, 1 Lean)
33 Republicans (30 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Lean)


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