Before the horses get too far away from the barn, this story has nothing to do with the 2016 election. Senator Tom Cotton (R – Arkansas) has gained considerable popularity among conservatives during his first term in the upper chamber, but he’s not talking about running for President next year. That doesn’t mean that some of his supporters back home aren’t thinking about a possible run in the future, though, but there’s a potential fly in the ointment. In the hypothetical event that Cotton were to make a 2020 run he would face the same situation that Rand Paul is dealing with in Kentucky right now. Arkansas doesn’t allow you to be on the ballot for two offices at the same time. With that in mind, a plan is already taking shape.
A bill that would make it easier for the Republican senator to run for re-election and the White House at the same time in 2020 is advancing in the Arkansas state Senate — barely three months after Cotton was sworn in at the U.S. Senate…
“Tom Cotton would be my current idea of someone who should be afforded this opportunity,” state Sen. Bart Hester, a Republican, told the Associated Press. “Politics, if I’ve learned anything, it changes every day and there could be the great next hope show up tomorrow.”
Arkansas is one of those states — like Kentucky — that doesn’t allow candidates to run for two offices simultaneously. This is an issue that Cotton’s colleague, Rand Paul, knows first hand and is trying to get around with his proposal for a presidential caucus in Kentucky.
I’m not seeing the exact details of how they would make it easier, whether it’s repealing the existing law, providing an exception to the rule if one of the offices is President, or switching to a caucus as Kentucky is considering. Any of them would work, I suppose, though a caucus would be the worst choice. But this is some seriously early bird planning, and for it to have any impact a number of things would need to fall into place.
First of all, this doesn’t even apply unless Hillary (or some other Democrat?) wins next year. It would be an exceptional set of circumstances indeed if a popular Republican senator was taking a primary run at a sitting GOP president. And if Cotton had to wait until 2024 this wouldn’t be an issue. Second, it assumes that he would actually be interested in launching such an effort as a 42 year old, one term Senator. That’s obviously not an unheard of proposition, (see: Obama, Barack) but the climate of the country may be a bit cool toward young legislators as opposed to seasoned governors for a while. It also assumes that Cotton’s popularity holds for another four to five years. He’s really just coming into his stride after being elected last year, and as the saying goes, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Plus, there’s always another flavor of the month coming up from behind.
Assuming Arkansas makes this change and Kentucky carries through with their current plan, are other states going to look into similar modifications? I’m not sure how many or which states do this, but it doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me. I don’t think there’s anything inherently evil about running for multiple offices, but I can see how voters might not want somebody treating a “lower” office representing them as the fallback plan. That’s similar to being the college which accepts you when you don’t get into the school you really wanted to attend.
In the end this will come down to the voters in each state. If Arkansas wants to do this, that’s up to them, but it may be a bit premature.