Sen. Tom Cotton has sent a memo to supporters of his Republican Majority Fund PAC taking credit for significant help to Republican Rep. French Hill in more than $200,000 spent to drive down Democratic challenger Clarke Tucker’s popularity and throw him off message with direct mail attacks.
Cotton details points in Tucker’s favor, including a mayoral race expected to generate a higher turnout in Democratic-leaning Little Rock. It also said early polling showed Hill with only a four-point lead and Tucker with a low unfavorable rating of 18 percent. Cotton set about doing something about that, including with advertising dishonestly linking Tucker to the MS-13 gang. He outlined the strategy:
We decided to invest heavily to support Hill shortly after the May primary. We expected to spend $200,000, but with your help, we were able to expand our budget. Even then, we knew this spending would be less than what the candidates and other groups would spend. Therefore, we needed to spend our money strategically, with two goals:
First, we spent on direct mail and digital advertisements—not television—using advanced analytics to target voters who supported President Trump but were ambivalent toward Hill. Most of these voters resided in the outlying rural areas, outside Pulaski County, and they had either not voted before 2016 or voted for the Democrat.
Second, we wanted to knock Tucker off message, forcing him to spend time, energy, and money responding to RMF, instead of focusing on what could have been his own compelling message. In addition to our mail and digital campaign, we also retained a leading research firm to examine Tucker’s background and a video tracker to record him at public events.
Cotton boasts that it was his tracker who got a quote from Tucker on video saying he didn’t know what the tracker was talking about when he asked about abolishing ICE. That appeared in Cotton’s anti-Tucker mailers. Said Cotton:
This quote and video became a central theme in our campaign, and Hill eventually used it as well.
Hmmm. Did the Cotton PAC and Hill coordinate on that video?
Cotton took credit for Tucker’s steadily rising unfavorability rating.
As we anticipated, our strategy rattled Tucker, putting him and his campaign on defense, where they stayed the entire race. In interviews, Tucker complained about RMF’s mail and described it
in detail, expanding its reach. Tucker held a press conference to complain about RMF’s mail during which he held up our mail pieces and read them to the television cameras. He also answered questions on immigration, speaking favorably about sanctuary cities. We incorporated those comments into our mail campaign.
Tucker ended his campaign on the defensive. Both of his closing ads complained about the immigration-related ads against him, rather than his core message.
Cotton noted that Republicans lost the House, including defeats of Republicans in districts with stronger Republican voting records, while Hill won with 52 percent of the vote. He noted that Hill had improved his vote margin in most counties outside Pulaski compared with his showing in 2014 against another strong Democrat, Pat Hays. Cotton claimed credit for increases in counties his mailers targeted, though he didn’t identify them.