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Some thoughts on Tom Cotton’s victory

Let’s begin by looking backwards and sparing a thought for the pathetic leftists who, when Tom first appeared on Power Line (writing to us from Iraq), claimed that he didn’t exist. The idea that a Harvard educated lawyer would leave a top-flight law firm to fight for his country was simply too alien for these poor souls to accept. This level of patriotism didn’t compute. We feel sorry for them.

Now let’s look ahead. The Democrats were unable to select an opponent for Tom last night. In fact, in a three-way race, no Democrat could even claim 40 percent. Thus, there will be a run-off between Gene Jeffress (39.8 percent) and Q. Byrum Hurst (35.6). The incumbent Democrat, Mike Ross, is retiring. The district has been reconfigured to make it more congenial to a Republican candidate.

Although the district arguably leans Republican, more Democrats voted last night. The Dem vote was around 54,000; the Republican vote was around 35,000.

But if I remember correctly what Tom has taught me about Arkansas politics, this may not be too worrisome. Historically, the vote in the Democratic primary is always comparatively large because the Republican Party has been so weak. Often, as I understand it, the Republicans didn’t even field candidates for down-ballot races.

Think back to the Arkansas Senate race two years ago. On the Democratic side, 329,000 people voted in the initial primary (there was a run-off), compared to only 144,000 in the Republican primary. Yet, the Republican won in November by a landslide. There is even a common denominator in the two primaries. D.C. Morrison, a conservative Democrat, ran in both the 2010 Senate primary and the Fourth District primary this year (he captured 21 percent of the vote last night and 13 percent in 2010).

Now let’s look sideways. Some may attribute Tom’s victory to fund-raising. Reportedly, he raised around $1 million, a huge amount for a congressional primary in a race like this one (and thank you to the Power Line readers who contributed).

It’s true that Tom needed lots of money. His opponent, former Miss Arkansas Beth Anne Rankin, is well-known in the district (she was the Republican nominee for this seat in 2010) and she was endorsed by Mike Huckabee. Tom was essentially unknown in the district when the campaign began.

So Tom needed funds to introduce himself to voters, tell his story, and present his conservative message. But the funds wouldn’t have helped if Tom didn’t have a great story, a great demeanor, and a great message.

And why was Tom unknown in his district? That’s part of his great story – he spent something like eight years in the military. During part of that time, he served in Iraq (leading patrols through the tough neighborhoods of Baghdad) and Afghanistan (providing security for developmental projects aimed at helping Afghans).

And how did Tom raise the money? He did it by impressing sophisticated Republican leaders (like John McCain, who endorsed him) and opinion leaders (like Bill Kristol, who has been a fan of Tom for quite some time) around the country.

What we have here, then, is a candidate who appeals to the elites and, as he showed last night, to the rank-and-file. And who appeals to them for the same, right reasons – his character, his intellect, and his conservative vision.

Finally, a note about Huckabee. Sometime in late 2009, I asked the former Governor what he thought about Blanche Lincoln’s prospects for re-election. Huckabee responded that Lincoln was in big trouble. As evidence he cited a poll showing her running even with “somebody no one has ever heard of.” That “somebody” was Tom Cotton, who was then being encouraged to run for the Senate.

It was a fair and astute comment by Huckabee. “No one” had heard of Tom Cotton then. But many have heard of him now. And I believe a great many more will hear of him in the coming years.

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