In races for the Republican nominations for two open U.S. House seats in Arkansas and Kentucky Tuesday, the common denominator was that conservative political outsiders emerged triumphant over the GOP “establishment” in both races. Winners Tom Cotton in Arkansas’s 4th District and Thomas Massie in Kentucky’s 4th District both came up on top by handsome margins.
Their victories are the latest in what appears to be a recent pattern of political outsiders — newer Ron Paul enthusiasts, tea partiers, and more traditional conservatives — mobilizing to take out Republican candidates and party leaders backed by the more moderate GOP establishment. Two weeks ago, in news that made headlines internationally, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock forged a coalition on the right to defeat six-term GOP Sen. Dick Lugar by a margin of 3-to-2. Furthermore, over the weekend, the Paulites, tea partiers and cultural conservatives who had backed Rick Santorum for president in Michigan, came together at the state party convention to depose Michigan’s two Republican National Committee members.
In Arkansas-4, Tom Cotton — a decorated veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and Harvard-educated attorney — rolled up 74 percent of the vote against Beth Anne Rankin, a former Miss Arkansas who had been the party’s nominee in 2010. Political newcomer Cotton had the backing of the Club for Growth and many tea party groups in the 4th District, which Democratic Rep. Mike Ross is relinquishing. Cotton seems a shoo-in to put it in the GOP column this fall.
In Kentucky-4, Lewis County Judge Thomas Massie rolled up 46 percent of the vote over several opponents, the closest being State Rep. Alicia Webb Edgington (30 percent), the favorite of the establishment. MIT graduate Massie, who campaigned hard on abolishing government agencies such as the Department of Education, was dubbed “another Rand Paul” by the libertarian Reason Magazine and had the strong backing of Kentucky Sen. Paul himself. In a district that has been in Republican hands for all but eight years since 1962, Massie is a strong bet to be in the next Congress.
The likely elections of Cotton and Massie (who is running to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Geoff Davis) should be part of a trend of an increasingly conservative Republican House. Coupled with the victories of Mourdock in Indiana and the new party leaders in Michigan, they offer evidence that conservative “outsiders” can rise above disagreements on some issues and unite behind someone who will not be an “economic conservative leader” or “social conservative leader” but a conservative leader, period. And in the two contests Tuesday, Cotton and Massie outraised the establishment contenders by large margins. This shows that, sometimes, conservatives do put their money where their proverbial mouths are.