My hunch is that a lot of people got a little ahead of their skis in pronouncing Pryor dead, but I also suspect that Cotton’s Jan. 29 vote against the farm bill—he was one of 63 House Republicans, mostly very conservative members, who voted against it, while 162 Republicans voted for it—had something to do with this. Among House Democrats, 89 voted for passage of the farm bill, 103—mostly pretty liberal members from urban districts and unhappy over food-stamp cuts—voted against it. No Republicans in Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, or Missouri voted against the bill, and some of those folks are pretty conservative.
Although Cotton unquestionably has deeply held conservative principles that persuaded him to vote against the farm bill, it sure wasn’t politically expedient for the Senate candidate to vote in opposition. My hunch is that there is a lot of head-scratching over that vote among farmers and folks in rural and small-town Arkansas. Given the increasingly conservative and racially polarized voting patterns in the Deep South, particularly in races like this one, Democratic candidates desperately need to find opportunities to drive a wedge between conservative positions taken by their opponents and what would strike most back home as not in a state’s best interest. It’s times like this when voters have that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” moment, wondering why a member of Congress from a largely rural state would take such a position. This race is far from over, and Cotton still could win. But my guess is, his vote on the farm bill will be a cudgel that Pryor will swing at him from now to November, providing an opening that the incumbent needed and the challenger could ill-afford to give. If Cotton doesn’t regret the vote already, he soon will.