Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton has the potential to be the decisive candidate that turns the Senate red for Republicans in 2014.
Cotton, a freshman representative, last week officially announced his intent to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor for Arkansas’ swing Senate seat next year.
He is exactly the candidate Republicans wanted to run, and he could help Republicans flip control of the body going into President Barack Obama’s last two years in office.
Republicans need to flip six seats in 2014 to gain control. Three red states with retiring Democratic senators — Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota — look like promising potential flips for Republicans. Now, Cotton is already ahead in early polling of the race.
“Cotton is an excellent candidate who will outwork Mark Pryor and actually reflects the electorate in Arkansas,” said Bray Dayspring, the communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Turning Arkansas red is a critical piece of winning the majority, and Tom Cotton is going to do it.”
Here are 10 things you should know about Cotton and why he could steal the seat from Pryor:
1. He currently represents the district that includes President Bill Clinton’s birthplace.
He is 36 years old, and he was first elected to Congress in 2012.
2. He was a fan of Clinton — at least briefly.
Cotton attended Harvard and wrote a regular column for the Harvard Crimson, the school’s student newspaper. In one column, he praised Clinton as “the most sincere campaigner of our time,” which he wrote led to his success as a politician. It’s clear, though, that Cotton’s politics are very different than those of his fellow Arkansan.
3. Cotton is an Army veteran who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Cotton’s official website, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks spurred his decision to enter the Army — after he graduated with degrees from both Harvard and Harvard Law. In Iraq, he served with the 101st Airborne. He has been decorated with the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and Ranger Tab.
4. After returning home from both stints in the Army, he worked at the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
It came after he decided against a Senate challenge to Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, believing he was rushing a potential candidacy.
5. In his first term in Congress, he has successfully garnered the support of both the Tea Party and establishment factions of the Republican Party.
Cotton’s Senate run has the support of the NRSC and conservative groups like the Club for Growth — something that few Republican upstarts have been able to master.
“He’s a first rate candidate. Arkansas is small enough that House members, even freshmen, can run and win statewide. He is one of the strongest fundraisers I’ve ever seen,” said Matt Mackowiak, the president of Potomac Strategy Group.
“He balances both wings of the party by not insulting either and by embodying both.”
6. Part of the reason Cotton has been able to manage that balance is because of his political positions.
From his veteran experience, Cotton is a hawk on foreign policy and national defence, believing that the United States can and should take an activist role in foreign affairs. According to Politico, he clashed with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and eviscerated Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) position on drone policy and national defence during a closed-door retreat hosted by the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year.
At the same time, Cotton follows the Tea Party line on social and fiscal issues. For instance, he opposed the farm bill — which blew up in the GOP’s face, but earned him conservative credibility.
“He’s establishment in the sense that he has an impressive educational and consulting background, combined with an intellect and hawkish foreign policy views that have impressed folks like Bill Kristol and earned him Sunday show appearances, which are rare for freshman House members,” Mackowiak said.
“However he ran as a strong conservative, standing up for the Constitution, fighting Obamacare, and courting Tea Party support. He’s done an excellent job of balancing those two things.”
7. He is a heavyweight fundraiser.
The conservative group Club for Growth is his top contributor, according to Open Secrets. He also has support from the heavy-hitting GOP donor class, such as Fred Malek, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
8. Democrats see an opening in Cotton’s lack of experience — and his budding role in the “hell no” caucus of the Republican Party.
Republicans also view the experience factor as one of Pryor’s main edges in a race that already seems to be tipping in Cotton’s favour. Democrats believe they can use Cotton’s vote against passage of the farm bill to their advantage. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted Cotton last week for his support of a Republican tactic to threaten a shutdown over funding for Obamacare.
9. Cotton exposes some of Pryor’s biggest vulnerabilities.
But Republicans actually believe that Cotton’s longstanding opposition to Obamacare will be a plus in Arkansas.
Business Insider obtained an internal NRSC poll, which tested which candidate Arkansas voters would choose based on the following statement: “Senator Mark Pryor voted for Obamacare while Congressman Tom Cotton voted to repeal Obamacare.” 55% said they’d be more likely to vote for Cotton, while only 33% said the same about Pryor.
10. Cotton already has a slim lead in a pair of polls.
According to the internal NRSC poll, Cotton leads 44-42 over Pryor. And a Harper Polling/Conservative Intel poll released last week, Cotton held a 43-41 lead.
All the optics are good for Cotton, who hasn’t been fully defined yet to Arkansas voters. In the NRSC poll, he is viewed favourably by 32% of voters, compared with 23% who view him unfavorably. Obama, meanwhile, is viewed at a highly unfavorable rate of 59%. Only 35% view him favourably.
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