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The Man from Yell

9:05 AM, May 24, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Hours after Tom Cotton won the GOP nomination for the open seat in Arkansas' Fourth Congressional District, and became a strong favorite to win the general election in a district that went 58 percent to 39 percent for John McCain in 2008, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a news release that suggests they're more or less throwing in the towel on the race.

Tom Cotton

The release might appear to suggest the opposite, since it's titled "Tom Cotton and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Agenda," and consists of much fulmination about "Washington insider" Tom Cotton, his endorsement of "massive cuts to Medicare," and the like.

But in fact the release is such formulaic and generic boilerplate that it looks like it's a pro-forma effect, designed to enable the national committee to say to whomever wins the runoff for the Democratic nomination in the district, when he comes asking for serious support: "Hey, we've sent out this release, we'll send it out again, we're on record attacking Cotton, we've done our part, don't call us, we'll call you...and good luck."

There is one interesting localized aspect to the press release, though--an appeal to the legacy of Arkansas's Democratic favorite son. The release claims Cotton's policies will play a part in "destroying President Bill Clinton's Children's Health Insurance Program." The truth, of course, is that Barack Obama has done more to destroy whatever legacy Bill Clinton hoped to leave of centrist Democratic governance than Tom Cotton will ever do. But the appeal to Clinton did raise this question: Isn't Cotton, in a way, following in Clinton's political footsteps?

Both are unusually intelligent and gifted political figures, well-educated and with a common touch, individuals who can connect with Middle America and with political and financial elites. Clinton was first elected to public office in 1976, as Arkansas's attorney general, at age 30; Cotton, 34, is four years behind Clinton, because he chose to serve his country as an Army infantry officer whereas Clinton chose to dodge military service.

That difference in biography, which reveals a deep difference in character, as well as the difference in their political views, says a lot, of course, and suggests the superiority of the Man from Yell (yes, that's Cotton's home county, which he carried 951 to 50 in the primary) to the Man from Hope. But the parallelism of their political careers, and of their political success, could still hold. Since Clinton became president at age 46, 16 years after winning his first election, that would put Cotton in line for the White House in either 2024 (if he wants to be the same age as his fellow Arkansan) or 2028 (if he wants to wait Clinton's 16 years).

Fortunately, he has some time before he has to make that difficult decision. Meanwhile, House Republicans should get a first-rate addition to their ranks next January--and Arkansans can look forward to a time when their state will be remembered for the talented and admirable Tom Cotton instead of the talented but disreputable Bill Clinton.

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