Thanks to a new law advancing through the Arkansas Legislature, the state’s freshman U.S. senator, Tom Cotton, could have a much clearer shot at the White House if he wants it. But don’t update your 2016 Republican Fantasy League roster just yet: Cotton is having something of a media moment this week due to his leading role in the controversial letter to Iran, but his boosters are playing the long game, setting him up to run for president in 2020.
Under current law, Cotton would need to give up his Senate seat after one term to run in the 2020 GOP primary, since he will be up for re-election that year and Arkansas forbids candidates from appearing for more than one federal office on the same ballot. Republican state Sen. Bart Hester intends to fix that with a bill he says was definitely not Cotton’s idea, even if Cotton is “the current candidate in Arkansas that we would like to see continue to have the opportunity to move forward,” according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Hester said he spoke to Cotton after he filed Senate Bill 803 on March 4 to make sure the U.S. Senator didn’t have any objections; Cotton didn’t have any problems with it. Hester said no one asked him to propose the bill. […] Hester told the committee that Texas and Wisconsin allowed former U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, respectively, to run for two federal offices at the same time, and “we [should] just afford the people of Arkansas the same opportunity some other states [allow].”
The bill’s 5–1 approval in the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee was not entirely partisan—one Democrat joined with Republicans to vote in favor—but the proposal is not going over well with some Democratics in the chamber. The Democrat-Gazette reports that one Democratic member of the committee who voted against approving the bill called the plan “ludicrous.”
If the change becomes law, Cotton would avoid an obstacle that has threatened to trip up his Senate colleague Rand Paul, whose presidential aspirations are more immediate and whose state legislature is evidently less cooperative. Paul has been unable to secure a change in Kentucky law that keeps him from running for two federal offices at once in 2016, a wrinkle that has the Kentucky GOP planning a caucus to avoid putting Paul on an actual ballot and, in theory, allowing Paul to run for the Senate and the White House in the same election.