Rep. Tom Cotton was supposed to be crushing Sen. Mark Pryor in the Arkansas Senate race by now. He's a youngish Iraq War veteran who ably unifies the three legs of social and fiscal conservatism at home and rampant warmaking abroad. The last time an Arkansas Democratic senator was up for reelection in a GOP-favoring year, Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010, now-Sen. John Boozman blitzed her by 21 percentage points, despite Lincoln spending an absurd amount of money and chairing the Senate Agriculture Committee. Arkansas is a red state, unless a Clinton is running.
And yet Cotton's campaign hasn't been able to gain separation from Pryor. He only leads by a couple of percentage points according to the current Real Clear Politics polling average. That may increase as undecideds "come home" in the last weeks of the election. But what's the problem been? Aside from Pryor's family name recognition and access to cash, Cotton's vote against the "farm bill" has really haunted him. He was the only member of the Arkansas delegation to vote against the final version that was signed into law earlier this year. Congressmen and senators from mostly rural states rarely vote against the measure, which provides relief and security to rural communities (as well as large agribusiness conglomerates) in addition to funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). Everyone has something they don't like about the farm bill -- it's cronyism, it's corporate welfare, it's welfare welfare -- whatever. But it's always eventually reauthorized because it includes something vital for everyone, rural or urban, Republican or Democratic. This current batch of House Republicans, like Tom Cotton, wanted to split apart the farm and SNAP components into separate votes. That's because they wanted to fund the farm stuff and not fund SNAP. This went nowhere because it defeats the whole goddamn reason that they were lumped together in the first place. So, Tom Cotton voted against the final package because of the food stamp provisions.
Cotton's calculation that, in conservative country, the benefits of voting to deny poor people basic food items would outweigh the costs of voting to deny farmers their sweet, sweet cash didn't pan out. Pryor and aligned outside groups have been hammering Cotton over the vote -- not only that it was detrimental to Arkansas agriculture interests, but also that he was taking cues from the Evil Koch Brothers.
And so Cotton has taken to the airwaves to defend himself with this brand-new "spot":
For those who can't watch, the video features Cotton and his father working a cattle farm. Here is Cotton's narration:
"On our family farm we have a few dozen head of cattle and one old guy with a head full of common sense — my dad. He taught me early, farmers can't spend more than they take in, and I listened," he says in the ad. "When President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill with billions more in spending, I voted no. Career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones, then the bad ideas become law and you pay for it. I'm Tom Cotton. I approve this message. I think you've paid enough already."
About the only thing here that isn't suspect is Cotton's assertion that he has a father.
"He taught me early farmers can't spend more than they take in, and I listened."
Comes from a fine fiscally conservative family, very good. But! Cotton claims his problems with the farm bill weren't with the "farm" problem, which is mainly subsidies for farmers and agribusiness. So despite what his noble, wizened father taught him, he has no problem with dishing out welfare to farmers. It's that welfare for Other People that he can't abide.
"When President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill with billions more in spending, I voted no."
President Obama did not "hijack" the farm bill to "turn it into a food stamp bill with billions more in spending." The farm bill has been structured this way for decades, for the reasons explained earlier. As the New York Times' Jackie Calmes writes, "If anyone 'hijacked' farm bill to add food stamps, it wasn't Obama. It was Bob Dole in '70s, proudly." So that's just a lie. Further, the farm bill that Cotton voted against but was eventually signed into law cut SNAP's budget by $8.7 billion -- less than the absurd $40 billion that House Republican holdouts like Cotton wanted, but enough to strike a bipartisan deal and finally get this thing over with. You won't need to strain your imagination too hard to come up with reasons why Cotton would frame this as the first African-American president wildly jumping in to add billions of dollars for food stamps to a FARM BILL? But it's an absolute mess of an assertion.
"Career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones, then the bad ideas become law and you pay for it."
Again, is this an attack ad on Bob Dole? And does Cotton believe that food stamps are a bad idea?
"I think you've paid enough already."
Yeah, and if more members had voted like Cotton, farmers in Arkansas wouldn't be getting any return on all that money they pay.