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Tom Cotton Keeps Flailing

Tom Cotton continues to struggle in his Senate race in Arkansas:

He’s a smash hit with the conservative commentariat class in Washington, but remains a largely unknown quantity to the everyday Arkansan.

“He talks like he’s at a dinner party at Bill Kristol’s house. There’s things I like about that, but that’s not the way you want to talk when running around Little Rock,” says one Beltway Republican operative closely following the race who has become measurably less confident about Cotton’s chances.

I can’t say I’m sorry to see that Cotton is having trouble in this campaign. The last thing that the Senate–or Arkansas–needs is yet another super-hawk preoccupied with finding new conflicts for the U.S. to fight, so if he ends up losing to Pryor that won’t be such a bad thing. Cotton’s struggles make it a little less likely that Republicans will take control of the Senate, which is all the more remarkable since he was widely touted as the best candidate recruited for this cycle. Regardless of his policy views, his political woes are a useful reminder that candidates that appear formidable “on paper” can very often prove to be a poor fit when it comes to winning over voters. As Pawlenty learned to his embarrassment in 2011, it is not remotely sufficient just to say what one thinks Washington policy elites and pundits want to hear while neglecting to address the voters’ concerns.

Cotton also seems to be making some of the same basic mistakes that ended up dooming Eric Cantor in his district. The report continues:

Some lament, when it matters most, Cotton is not even showing up [bold mine-DL]. The freshman representative missed the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival in his own district in June, a celebration attended by an estimated 30,000 that has become a marquee opportunity for political candidates to showcase their grinning, gripping and backslapping. Pryor rode in the parade, posed for pictures with ladies in tomato-cut aprons and spoke at a luncheon. When it came time for the candidates to compete in the fast-paced tomato eating contest, Cotton was nowhere to be found. Instead, The Nation reported Cotton was at a political event in California with the Koch Brothers, the libertarian-minded billionaires who have been villainized by Democrats for devoting their fortune to conservative causes and candidates.

It may be that Cotton has been overestimating his chances at beating Pryor all along, and therefore hasn’t made the effort that someone running against an incumbent senator ought to be making. Because Obama’s ratings are so poor in Arkansas, he may have assumed that all that he had to do to beat Pryor was to link him to the president and the rest would sort itself out. However, instead of easily toppling Pryor, whom most observers once thought to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, Cotton is flailing mostly thanks to his own political ineptitude. There is still a long time before November and Cotton could still win in spite of himself, but unless something changes he is at real risk of blowing one of the GOP’s best chances for picking up a Senate seat in this election.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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