GOP Rep. Tom Cotton defeated two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor on Tuesday, bringing Republicans one step closer to winning control of the Senate. Cotton hammered Pryor repeatedly on Obamacare, which remains deeply unpopular in Arkansas even though the legislation has helped hundreds of thousands of residents get health insurance.
But it's foreign policy where Cotton could make his biggest impact in the Senate. "Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they're willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism," Cotton said during a September tele-town hall. "They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas." Three weeks later, he put his money where his mouth was, airing an ad featuring footage pulled straight from an ISIS propaganda film called Flames of War.
This is what you can expect more of from Cotton, an Army veteran who first rose to fame after writing a letter to the editor of the New York Times demanding that everyone who worked on a story on a top-secret terrorist tracking program be tried for treason. During his brief tenure in the House of Representatives, he was one of the few House Republicans to vocally back an intervention in Syria.
Over the last four years, civil libertarians and non-interventionists have made big gains in the GOP, led by congressional newcomers like Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. But Cotton's win marks a victory for the neo-cons—a young voice with a good-looking resume who should be in Washington for a while. Just take a look at former Texas Rep. Ron Paul's reaction:
Republican control of the Senate = expanded neocon wars in Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are coming!
It was Cotton who rose to speak against Amash's 2013 amendment that would have curtailed the NSA's surveillance powers. "We are at war," he said. "You may not like that truth, I wish it weren't the truth, but it is the truth. We are at war. Do not take away this tool from our warriors on the front lines."
Among Beltway conservative scribes, Cotton's political arc has taken on an almost singular importance, with writers at places like the Weekly Standard salivating over his small-town credentials in True Grit country. As I reported when I visited Cotton's hometown of Dardanelle in September, I found the local hero in Yell County isn't Cotton; it's fourth-district Democratic nominee James Lee Witt. But it didn't matter. Mark Pryor voted for Obamacare, he probably voted for Obama, and now he's looking for work.
Anyway, here's your next Senator from Arkansas eating a watermelon:
Illustration: Thomas Nast/Library of Congress; Scott Brown: Seamas Culligan/ZUMA
Former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown's comeback bid hit a wall on Tuesday, as he failed to unseat New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. More than perhaps any other Senate candidate, Brown based his campaign on border security, warning that ISIS agents could enter the country at ease, and that migrants could bring diseases (including, maybe, Ebola) across the Southern border. At one point, he even merged the two, warning that ISIS terrorists might smuggle in Ebola across the Mexican border.
It didn't work. According to exit polls, 54 percent of New Hampshire voters thought Brown hadn't been in New Hampshire long enough to represent it in Washington. (For what it's worth, we think that's kind of unfair.) So where should Brown run next? There are still four New England states he hasn't tried. But these areas don't offer much opportunity. The Granite State is the last Yankee state to vote for a Republican presidential candidate—and that was in 2000.
Update: Check the end of each item in this pre-election roundup to see what happened.
Elections have consequences—even when no one seems to be paying much attention to them. On Tuesday, voters will settle 33 Senate elections and 36 governors' races, and determine just how big of a majority Speaker of the House John Boehner will have to work with in the 114th Congress. They'll also resolve dozens of lower-profile races and ballot initiatives with a direct and almost immediate impact on everything from what kind of pastries you can feed to bears to what kinds of savings you can stash in your bank account.
While you wait on Waukesha County, here's a quick look at some other issues the midterms will decide:
Whether a person can buy a drink in this place: Over the last half decade, voters in Arkansas have slowly chipped away at the number of counties in the state that forbid alcohol sales. That number stands at 35 (out of 75). Ballot question 4 would eliminate dry counties entirely. Opponents, primarily liquor retailers in wet counties who don't want to lose market share, have ponied up almost $2 million to oppose it, and an October poll showed the proposal trailing by double digits. But expect the drip-drip to continue. Through a group called Our Community, Our Profits, Walmart has spent $1.4 million to repeal a dry ban in Saline County, which includes much of the suburbs around Little Rock. Result: Opponents of the statewide measure are celebrating its loss today—presumably with boring fruit punch.
Tea party Senate candidate Rob Maness has found an issue he believes will resonate with Louisiana voters: a 30-acre, oil-burping sinkhole. During a debate with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu on Tuesday, Maness was asked about a lawsuit over coastal erosion filed against 100 oil and gas companies last spring by a local flood protection board. For too long, the retired Air Force colonel warned, oil, gas, and chemical companies had had their way with Louisiana, with little government oversight and often at great cost to residents: "The families of Bayou Corne—it's been over 600 days since they've been under evacuation."
As I reported last summer, the town of Bayou Corne, in rural Assumption Parish, has been under a mandatory evacuation order since August 2012, when a sinkhole suddenly formed from an abandoned salt-mining cavern. The hole has grown to 30 acres, and the presence of potentially dangerous gases underneath the community—and bubbling on the bayou—has kept residents away. In August, Texas Brine, the company that had capped and abandoned the cavern, settled a class-action lawsuit with 269 residents for $48.1 million, but avoided any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Perhaps wary of upsetting Louisiana's powerful oil and gas interests, politicians have largely avoided the sinkhole. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal dropped by for a press conference in 2013, but has never returned. But last month, Maness became the first candidate for statewide office to visit the sinkhole. He's even touting the endorsement of one of the main sources for my story, Bayou Corne resident Mike Schaff:
Maness for Senate
Maness lags behind his two main opponents in the polls, but he will probably fare well enough to ensure that neither Landrieu nor Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy will clear the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. He has also picked up the endorsement of prominent conservative activists, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Red State founder Erick Erickson—which makes his choice of an environmental disaster as a campaign wedge issue all the more noteworthy.
On Tuesday, tens of millions of Americans will brave long lines and various forms of precipitation to elect the public servants that best represent their democratic values. For better or for worse. Here's a quick guide to the candidates we can't believe might actually win—whether because of legal troubles, crushing hypocrisy, basic math, or some combination thereof. It is by no means comprehensive.