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Steep Slog for Democrats to Win Back Arkansas

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democrats’ best opportunity to pick up a seat in Arkansas is if Cotton runs for Senate, leaving the 4th District open.

Although it’s still early in the cycle, Democrats look to only have a realistic shot of picking up a House seat in Arkansas if one is open. That appears most likely to happen in the 4th District, where Cotton, a strong fundraiser and rising star in the party, is being recruited to run for Senate.

Asked directly whether Cotton was running for re-election or for the Senate, his spokeswoman, Caroline Rabbitt, did not answer. She said in a statement to CQ Roll Call that the congressman “is focused right now on the coming work to address our spending-driven debt crisis.”

“There will come a time for politics,” she added, “but it’s not right now.”

But Cotton’s Senate bid prospects are strong enough that local Democrats are publicly eyeing his seat.

State Sen. Bruce Maloch, a conservative Democrat who is seen as a strong potential candidate, would be the early Democratic front-runner. Last week, he confirmed he is interested in running for seat, but probably only if it’s open.

Although President Barack Obama won less than 36 percent of the 4th District vote in 2012, the district includes much of the same territory held for 12 years by former Democratic Rep. Mike Ross, who retired last cycle. In an interview last week, Maloch said he sees himself in a similar political mold.

“Arkansas is a state that continues to vote on personality and people versus party,” said longtime Arkansas Democratic consultant Robert McLarty, who thinks the 4th could be in play if it’s an open seat. “Maybe more people identify as a Republican on a generic ballot, but they still vote for the person.”

But Republicans maintain that even if the seat is open, voters won’t elect a Democrat.

“The 4th District is not going to elect anybody on President Obama’s team, no matter how much they personally like them,” said one plugged-in Arkansas Republican.

The next best target for Democrats in Arkansas would be the agriculture-heavy 1st District, which runs along the whole eastern side of the state. But incumbency and declining Democratic performance there makes this seat even more difficult for the party to pick up.

A lot can change in the 21 months before Arkansans cast their votes. If Democrats succeed in recruiting strong candidates, there’s the potential of putting a seat in play.

And they can always hope. Considering the eponymous city is in the 4th District, that’s not a bad place to start.

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