Cotton Scores Big Win for GOP Hawks

WASHINGTON – Tom Cotton won a convincing victory over his Democratic opponent in the Senate race in Arkansas by playing to the heavy anti-Obama sentiment in the state.

The Arkansas Republican defeated two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor after a heated and expensive race. The contest drew about $40 million in outside spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Associated Press declared Cotton the winner immediately after the polls closed. Cotton beat Pryor 56 percent to 40 percent.

Despite President Bill Clinton’s seven trips to his home state to campaign for Democrats, Pryor did not lead in any major polls since April even though he only trailed Cotton by a few percentage points.

Cotton’s campaign strategy was to make every effort to tie Pryor to President Obama, who is widely unpopular in Arkansas.

A Fox News exit poll showed that 40 percent of voters cast their ballots to express opposition to Obama. Thirty-one percent of voters said they had a “positive” view of the administration.

Pryor painted Cotton as an elitist, tea party extremist, and criticized him for being the only Arkansas congressman to vote against the farm bill.

“I will serve and represent every Arkansan, Democrat, Republican, and everyone else,” Cotton said in his victory speech. “While I am a proud Republican, you elected me to represent Arkansas in the U.S. Senate, and it is Arkansas that I will represent.”

Cotton served just one term in Congress before being elected to the Senate. He has close ties to both the tea party movement and the establishment wing of the Republican Party.

At the age of 37, Cotton is an Army veteran. He joined the Army in 2005 after receiving his law degree from Harvard and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will be the youngest lawmaker to serve in the next Senate, taking that title from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), 41.

Cotton’s popularity in some quarters of the right began in 2006, when he penned an op-ed as an active-duty lieutenant in Iraq to the New York Times condemning the paper for making public details of an American program to track terrorist financing. The newspaper never published the letter, but the conservative blog Power Line did. His letter was well received in conservative circles online and put Cotton on the radar.

“You may think you have done a public service, but you have gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis here,” he wrote. “By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars.”

He began corresponding with the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, eventually developing what Kristol has described as “a bond beyond pure policy.” Kristol considers Cotton one of the GOP’s most promising new faces. Shortly after winning the GOP nomination in 2012 for his congressional seat, Kristol said Cotton possessed the same talent of Clinton to “connect with Middle America and with political and financial elite,” but his military record and political views made him superior.

Cotton’s foreign policy views set him on a collision course with another leading young voice in the GOP: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

While Cotton supports expanding the use of drones, Paul has called for legal limits on the U.S. targeted-killing program. While Cotton is open to putting more boots on the ground to fight ISIS, Paul opposes getting more involved in the wars in Syria and Iraq.