LITTLE ROCK — If U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton announces an expected Senate bid this week, it will end the waiting for several whose political plans hinge on his decision.
“It’s kind of a domino effect. It’s just kind of been a waiting game till Congressman Cotton decides what he wants to do,” said state Sen. Bobby Pierce, D-Sheridan, who counts himself among the candidates-in-waiting.
Cotton, R-Dardanelle, has long been expected to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election bid in 2014, and last week sources including Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman told the Arkansas News Bureau and other media outlets that Cotton would make it official with an announcement in Dardanelle on Tuesday.
The prospect of an open race in the 4th Congressional District has stirred excitement among those eyeing a run for the office.
“If he’s in (a Senate race), we’re seriously considering it,” Pierce said. “We’re getting a lot of people encouraging us to run from all over the state.”
Others who have indicated they may run for the 4th District if it becomes an open race include Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr; Arkansas House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs; former Republican 4th District candidate Beth Anne Rankin of Magnolia; and state Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, D-Warren.
Janis Percefull, a Hot Springs teacher and author, did not wait for Cotton’s announcement. She said last month she would run for the 4th District seat as a Democrat whether Cotton was in the race or not.
Also playing a waiting game are at least two Republicans who are interested in running for lieutenant governor if Darr runs for Congress.
“Let’s say 99 percent, if (Darr) declares for another office,” state Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said Friday when asked how likely he was to run for lieutenant governor.
State Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, said Friday when asked the same question, “Assuming that all the dominoes fall in the manner that everybody thinks they’re going to … it’s very likely that I will.”
State Highway Commissioner John Burkhalter, a Democrat, has announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor. Little Rock School Board member Dianne Curry announced for the position in June but dropped out last week, saying she wanted to unite the Democratic Party behind Burkhalter.
Whether Democrats or Republicans are more likely to benefit from the falling dominoes depends on whom one asks.
Debbie Wilhite, a Little Rock-based Democratic political consultant, said Democrats have reasons to be optimistic.
“The 4th District will be open again,” she said. “They just got a new congressman, he’s been in eight months and he’s already ready to leave them. I think that they’re going to be open to somebody with some staying power and some commitment to the people of the 4th District, like they had with Mike Ross.”
Ross, now a Democratic candidate for governor, represented the 4th District for 12 years but chose not to seek re-election in 2011.
Wilhite also said she believes Burkhalter will be a strong candidate for lieutenant governor.
Arkansans “have an appreciation for people who came up by their bootstraps,” she said, referring to Burkhalter’s success in building his engineering business.
Clint Reed, a Little Rock-based Republican political consultant, said Republicans may not have the advantage of the incumbency in those two races, but they have another advantage going into this election cycle — excitement.
“Not only at the state level and the state party organizational level, but even down to the grass roots you’ve got people that are motivated, that are excited,” he said. “You have a lot of interest in candidates stepping forward, even at the county levels and state legislative levels, which would signal that there is a sign of enthusiasm out there.
“I believe that the enthusiasm advantage will be on the Republican side.”