The House that Bubba Built, namely the Arkansas Democratic Party, crumbled to the ground Tuesday night as freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton knocked off Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who helped lead the charge to impeach President Clinton, won the race to become Arkansas’ next governor. Hutchinson defeated Mike Ross, a former congressman whose first job in politics was serving as Bill Clinton’s driver, to win the governor’s mansion where Bill and Hillary once lived.
Despite Clinton’s seven trips to the state to campaign for the 2014 Democratic ticket, nothing he did could hold off the Republican wave that swept the state. The Democratic ticket was ultimately drowned out by the tide of anti-Obama sentiment in Arkansas, where the president has a 30 percent approval rating.
The Associated Press declared Cotton the winner two minutes after the polls closed, as Cotton swamped Pryor 56 percent to 40 percent, while Ross lost to Hutchinson 55 percent to 42 percent.
In his victory speech Tuesday night, Cotton declared, “The people of Arkansas have made their choice.”
The shift in political power completes the partisan realignment of the state that began in 2010, when Republicans defeated incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln by more than 20 points, took control of the state legislature in 2012 for the first time in more than 100 years, and eventually swept all four House seats.
Cotton, a lanky Harvard-educated lawyer and Army combat veteran, burst onto the political scene in 2012 when he easily won his Arkansas House seat and became the “anti-Rand,” vocally defending the Iraq War as “just and noble” and rejecting his party’s growing libertarian inclinations on global affairs.
That unapologetically hawkish posture won over the likes of former President George W. Bush, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Sen. John McCain, GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, former Rep. Allen West, and the John Bolton PAC, all of whom donated generously to Cotton’s Senate bid
Cotton was also heavily bankrolled by the securities industry, the largest sector to donate to Cotton’s campaign, and Elliott Management Corp., the hedge fund run by Paul Singer, a neocon defense hawk.
Although Sen. Pryor committed a number of unforced errors during the campaign, including stumbling when asked whether he believed President Obama had properly responded to the Ebola outbreak, the president’s unpopularity in Arkansas seemed to doom Pryor from the start.
At one debate, Cotton tied Pryor to Obama by saying the latter’s name more than 70 times. American Crossroads, another big funder for the pro-Cotton effort, plowed more than $500,000 into ads portraying the Pryor and the president as essentially the same person. In an ad called “Spelling Bee,” a young child spells “Pryor” as “O-B-A-M-A,” to which the judge says, “Close enough.”
On Tuesday night, Arkansas voters agreed that even sharing a party affiliation with President Obama, as Pryor and Ross did, was close enough for them, and officially completed Arkansas’ shift from blue to purple to -- for now -- solidly red.