Clinton Should Run for Cotton’s Senate Seat
With rumors swirling that Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton will soon head for the CIA, another Senate race may be added to the 2018 list. The safe money is for an open seat in Arkansas to stay in Republican hands. But who thought Alabama would host a competitive Senate race? If Democrats can find a credible candidate, and unruly Republican voters again fail to take their nomination process seriously, anything could happen.
However, to call the Arkansas Democratic Party a shell would be an insult to turtles. There are no Democratic officials holding statewide office, nor any in the U.S. House delegation. Out of the 135 members of the Arkansas state legislature, only 33 – less than 25 percent – are Democrats. Not a single Democrat has yet stepped up to run for governor next year. The only Democratic Senate prospect that Arkansas Times columnist Jay Barth could come up with isn’t even a Democrat, but former Republican state House speaker Davy Carter, who has been critical of President Trump and could run as “an Independent with Democratic backing.”
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If Arkansas Democrats want to field a serious Democrat, there’s only one name to consider. I’m talking, of course, about Clinton.
Of course, Hillary Clinton would have to overcome a lot of impediments to become only the third person in history to have represented more than one state in the Senate. She just lost Arkansas to Trump by 27 points, and didn’t even bother to campaign there. She’s not a native Arkansan and was always a polarizing figure during her stint as the state’s first lady. She didn’t come back there to live after serving in the White House, nor does she visit often. A sudden return to the state would likely dredge up bad memories of the Whitewater investigation, in which she was never charged with crime but many of her Arkansas associates were convicted. As Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky summed up after visiting the state during the 2016 campaign, “Arkansas is pleased to forget Hillary Clinton.”
Moreover, a Hillary for Senate campaign would anger Berniecrats who view her as representative of a corporatist wing of the party, threatening national party unity when Democrats will be trying to boost base turnout for all of the 2018 midterm elections.
But what about Bill? Might he follow John Quincy Adams’ footsteps and become the second ex-president to serve in Congress? He was born and raised in the state. He did win statewide time and time again, as state attorney general, governor (except for that one time) and president. And unlike Hillary, he does visit his home state regularly, staying at his 5,000-square-foot crash pad atop the Bill Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.
Yes, Arkansas politics have swerved to the right since the 1990s. But as Lyon College political science professor Bradley Gitz told Bershidsky, Arkansas is a small state where personality-driven retail politics often win the day, which is why it was a perfect fit for Bill. “He’s just about the only Democrat who would stand a chance” in the state, Gitz said. One Clinton friend said in 2014, “Even the ultra conservative elements admire Bill. They are Clinton supporters even though they are Obama haters.”
But Bill is suffering a post-Weinstein Effect reassessment of his sexual misconduct, proven and alleged. Two of his accusers, Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick, still live in Arkansas and would likely hover over the race as they did when they crashed the 2016 town hall presidential debate. Plus, Broaddrick is publishing a book in January titled, “You’d Better Put Some Ice On That: How I Survived Being Raped by Bill Clinton.” Let’s just say, the timing isn’t right.
That leaves us with one Clinton left: Chelsea.
She has the Clinton name but little of the Clinton baggage. She wouldn’t hurt for name recognition or campaign cash. She’s vice chair of the controversy magnet known as the Clinton Foundation, but emails released during the presidential campaign by WikiLeaks and the State Department show Chelsea getting caught doing good, seeking to root out corruption by foundation officials and warning of problems with Haiti earthquake relief.
She is an Arkansas native, even though she hasn’t lived there since she was 12. Sure, she lives in Manhattan now and lacks a Southern accent. But her mom bought her first house in New York two months before she launched her Senate bid, proving zip code ain’t nothing but a number. Carpetbagger charges are inevitable. But in the end, what matters is your knowledge and respect of the state and its voters. Chelsea shows no hint of cultural condescension toward her birthplace. For example, as an NBC reporter, she spotlighted efforts to preserve the folk music traditions of the city of Mountain View in the Ozarks.