Taking Back the House, Vol, 14: Tom Cotton and Arkansas’s 4th District

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This is the fourteenth edition of a research project at PoliticusUSA known as Taking Back the House. You can check out the previous edition here. The purpose of this project is to analyze each Republican Congressional district in the United States and see how likely the district can go ‘Blue.’ To do this, I will take a look at the overall demographics of the district, as well as review the historical voting patterns and the record of the Congressperson representing the district. This series will run until we’ve looked at every single district in the country, which should take us right into the 2014 campaign season.

 

Congressional District: Arkansas 4th District

 

U.S. Representative: Tom Cotton

 

Population: 736.183

 

Median Household Income: $34,630 (National Average: $51,017)

 

Unemployment Rate: 10.1% (National Rate: 7.2%)

 

Gender: 51% Female, 49% Male (National Percentages: 50.8% Female, 49.2% Male)

 

Age: 16.6% 65 and over (National Percentage: 12.8%)

 

Race: 75.6% White, 19.7% Black, 0.5% Asian (National Percentages: 72.4% White, 12.6% Black, 4.8% Asian, 0.9% American Indian)

 

Ethnicity: 94.5% Non-Hispanic, 5.5% Hispanic (National Percentages: 83.6% Non-Hispanic, 16.4% Hispanic)

 

Urban/Rural Population Split: 40.8% Urban, 59.2% Rural (National Split: 82% Urban, 18% Rural)

 

District Voting Patterns: Prior to Cotton’s election in 2012, the district had been almost exclusively represented by Democrats since Reconstruction. Mike Ross served six consecutive terms in the House before announcing that he would not run for reelection  in 2012, siting ambitions for a state-level position. He eventually announced in April 2013 that he would be running for Governor in 2014. This had to come as a blow to the Democratic Party, as he was one of the few Southern Democrats to survive the 2010 Republican landslide during the House mid-term elections. As a Blue Dog Democrat, Ross is a moderate with socially conservative leanings, as he’s earned an A+ rating from the NRA and is pro-life.

 

With Ross out of the picture, Cotton was able to somewhat breeze through the Republican primary and general elections. He won the primary by 19 points over Ross’s 2010 opponent, Beth Ann Rankin. He then won the general election by an even wider margin, as he defeated Democrat Gene Jeffress, 60-37. Cotton was only 35 at the time of the election, positioning himself as one of the rising stars of the Republican Party. He announced on August 6th, 2013 that he’d be running for the Senate against Democrat incumbent Mark Pryor in 2014. Therefore, he will only serve this one term in the House, as he can’t run in both elections.

 

As for Presidential elections, the district went overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in 2012, as he won 62-36. In 2008, John McCain carried the district by 23 points.

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Congressional Activity by Cotton: Cotton has only been in Congress for less than a year. He has been placed on two committees: the Financial Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. As he’s had a short tenure so far, there isn’t all that much to judge him on. Per OpenCongress, he’s voted with his party 95% of the time, so he can’t be called a ‘maverick’ at this point. He did vote for the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014, which reopened the federal government and raised the debt ceiling. With ambitions for the Senate, he probably realized that a vote against it could definitely be used against him. On the other hand, he did receive crap (rightfully so) for voting against student loan regulation in August, as it was revealed that he was the recipient of Stafford loans when he went to Harvard Law School.

 

Notable Quotes by Cotton:

 

“A better path is to repeal Obamacare, which nationalized the student-loan business, and let Arkansas’s hometown banks work with students and families to finance higher education, just as they do with homes, farms, businesses, and other loans. I’m committed to bringing affordable higher education to every Arkansan and ending the federal-government monopoly on the student-lending business.” – Cotton explaining why he voted against student loan regulation on August 1st, 2013. Somehow, he found a way to tie Obamacare into it.

 

“I am grateful to receive the endorsement of The Madison Project, an organization dedicated to promoting pro-life and pro-family issues, promoting limited government, and defending religious freedom. They understand that in this election we need to ensure Congress has strong conservative leaders, not simply conservative votes.” – Facebook post on March 31st, 2012.

 

Odds of District Going Blue in 2014: Fair. With Cotton running for the Senate, the Republicans will have to throw another candidate out there. Obviously, the Tea Party will feel the need to run a candidate in this primary. And, quite frankly, I can see a Tea Party candidate winning in this district, at least in a Republican primary. The demographics basically show this as a stereotypical Tea Party haven: old, white, rural and Southern. It would seem with these demos, that it would be tough for any Democrat to get traction.

 

However, it should also be pointed out that the district has high unemployment and a very low median income. Basically, this district (which encompasses the entire bottom half of the state, geographically) depends heavily on various forms of social welfare and entitlements. Perhaps a Blue Dog similar to Mike Ross can come into the district, promise not to touch their guns and be a bible-thumping pro-lifer, and convince the voters that it is best to go for someone who will work towards their overall economic interests. If that can occur, considering that Ross won six straight elections in the district, most rather easily, then it is possible to change this district back to Blue.

 

Justin is the Managing Editor and a Contributing Writer for Politicus Sports, PoliticusUSA’s very own sports site. You can check out the site here

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