Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., could likely run for a second term without having to face a Democratic challenger, but officials with the state Democratic Party disagree.
Cotton, who has served in the Senate since 2015, originally faced Democratic challenger Josh Mahony of Fayetteville. Mahony, who ran unsuccessfully against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Womack in 2018, announced he was dropping out of the Senate race Tuesday. His announcement came roughly two hours after the campaign filing period ended.
In a statement, Mahony said the decision was due to an unspecified health issue within his family and asked for privacy.
“It has been the honor of my life to be able to meet and visit with so many Arkansans over the last six months and hear their voices,” Mahony said. “It was my sincere hope to be their advocate in Washington, D.C. However, in this moment right now, I need to focus on my family and place their interests first.”
Since no other Democratic candidate filed to oppose Cotton before the filing period ended, this would theoretically leave the race without a Democratic candidate. However, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray said the party is hoping to fill the vacancy.
“Party leadership including myself and staff are directly working with our legal counsel, our Rules Committee, and the Secretary of State's office to review all possible avenues moving forward,” Gray said, in a statement. “Arkansans were promised a choice this election, and we are working to ensure they have that choice.”
Republicans countered with a statement calling the Democratic Party’s attempt to fill the vacancy unlawful, threatening “aggressive legal action against all parties involved.”
Talk Business & Politics reports Mahony must provide a letter to Democratic Party officials about his reason for dropping out, which will then go to Gov. Asa Hutchinson within ten days.
According to the report, a vacancy can only be filled in the cases of death, serious illness, moving out of state, or filing for another office.
Mahony had faced scrutiny from Republicans before Tuesday’s announcement. His campaign website was revised in September following questions from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette regarding his employment status.
A news release from the Republican Party of Arkansas issued the same day Mahony announced his campaign’s end called for an investigation into his campaign finances by the Federal Election Commission. A news release on Thursday said the Republican Party would no longer file the complaint.
The general election is set for Nov. 3, 2020. Cotton still faces Libertarian Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. and Independent Dan Whitfield in his bid for a second term representing Arkansas in the United States Senate.