“I’m running for Senate for the same reasons that I ran for Congress,” says Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), “and for the same reasons that I joined the Army: to serve my country and expand freedom.”
He’s calling me from his car, minutes after launching his campaign against two-term incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor, vulnerable in the polls despite the fact that he and his family have been an Arkansas political institution for decades.
While only a freshman Representative, Cotton has made a strong impression already. His resumé–Harvard, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congress–speaks for itself. He has worked on his family farm and on Wall Street.
Yet what most excites conservatives who have watched his career is Cotton’s ability to make the case–whether opposing the Senate immigration bill in the Wall Street Journal, or taking the New York Times to task.
A Tea Party conservative, Cotton raised eyebrows when he opposed the Amash amendment last month, arguing that the National Security Agency should have the power to monitor Internet communications.
I ask him if that will be an obstacle in his race: “I think the people of Arkansas, Republican or Democrat, still believe in America’s strength, and in doing what is necessary to maintain our leadership in the world.”
Polls show him neck-and-neck with Pryor, but political insiders suggest it is only a matter of time before he pulls ahead. The reason: Pryor’s vote for Obamacare. Pryor’s case against Cotton is that he is too ambitious, that he is only a freshman, and that he (unlike Pryor) won’t put Arkansas first. But Pryor’s support for Obamacare makes it difficult to persuade Arkansas voters that he would do any better in a third term.
“The people of Arkansas know that Mark Pryor has spent the last four-and-a-half years putting Barack Obama first,” Cotton tells me. “We see that in reports of Pryor’s massive unpopularity in the state, in the unpopularity of Obamacare, in Pryor’s poor performance among the voters of all political stripes. He was the deciding vote. He had a chance to stop Obamacare. He chose to stand with Barack Obama.”
As to the charge that he is too green to run for the Senate, Cotton replies: “Some people say that I haven’t been in Washington long enough to run, but I’ve been there long enough to know that Washington needs to change. I’ve served our country in other ways, in far-off places, and because of that I can see that Washington is not serving our country any longer.”
And his chances? “I have a great chance to win,” Cotton says.