Club for Growth favorite leads in Arkansas

Army reservist Tom Cotton appears poised to defeat 2010 nominee Beth Anne Rankin in Tuesday’s GOP House primary in Arkansas, a result that would give the fiscally conservative Club for Growth its favored candidate for the seat.

The group has bundled nearly $300,000 in campaign contributions for Cotton, more than a quarter of the $1.1 million total he’s raised for the race. That haul has given him a large cash advantage over Rankin, a onetime Miss Arkansas who worked for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) and has his support in the race. Rankin raised $400,000 for the race and had just $80,000 in the bank as of the beginning of May.

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Cotton, who left a D.C.-area consulting job to make the House bid, has used his big cash advantage to flood the airwaves with positive spots touting his military experience, fiscal conservatism and local ties — one folksy ad features his high school basketball coach joking that he’s always been a leader but “couldn’t shoot a lick.”

Polls indicate his ad spending has helped give him an advantage. An early April poll conducted by Hendrix College had him with an 18-point lead, up from a statistical tie in their first poll, conducted before either candidate had spent heavily on television in mid-May. His latest commercial is airing in the Shreveport, La., television market, targeting Rankin’s political base in the south of the district.

The Club isn’t the only group that’s helped Cotton — he also has the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who praised his Army service.

Rankin, who lost to Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) by 18 points in the Republican-leaning district despite 2010’s Republican wave, has long touted her ties to Huckabee and describes herself as a “Huckabee adviser” in campaign ads. 

The former governor attended a Rankin fundraiser in February. While Huckabee remains popular in Arkansas, especially in the southwest corner of the state where he’s from, her campaign’s smaller ad buys mean she hasn’t been able to tout that connection as loudly as she could have.

Former Marine John Cowart (R) is also running for the Republican nomination. The candidates need to hit 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

The winner of the primary will have the advantage in the general election. While the seat has long been in Democratic hands, redistricting made it more favorable for Republicans — President Obama would have only gotten 37 percent in the new district in 2008, down from the 39 percent he received under the old lines. While Democrats are bullish about attorney Q. Byrum Hurst (D), Rep. Mike Ross’s (D-Ark.) retirement has given the GOP a prime opportunity there.


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