Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Cotton backs hike on minimum wage, but only ‘as a citizen’

Updated
Voters in Arkansas will vote this fall on a statewide minimum-wage increase, and given the polls, the proposal is expected to pass fairly easily. For months, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has refused to say what he thinks of the ballot measure – it’s a state issue, he’s argued, and he’s a federal lawmaker.
 
Under the circumstances, Cotton’s evasiveness offered a pretty strong hint: he didn’t want to announce his opposition to a popular idea before the election, but the congressman also didn’t want to betray his far-right ideology.
 
So he’s trying to thread a needle.
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Friday that, as a “citizen,” he will vote in favor of a ballot initiative that would gradually raise the minimum wage in Arkansas.
 
“I’m going to vote for that initiated act as a citizen,” Cotton, who is running to unseat Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), said Friday on the Alice Stewart radio show.
The campaign hasn’t defined the “as a citizen” qualifier, but in context, I suspect Cotton’s trying to draw a distinction between how he’d vote in Congress and how he’d vote at his local Arkansas precinct. The conservative Republican will apparently vote for a wage hike “as a citizen,” but he’ll vote against minimum-wage increases as a lawmaker.
 
Whether voters find the distinction satisfying remains to be seen.
 
That said, let’s not miss the larger context: Cotton is in the middle of a tough fight in a Southern red state, and to get ahead, he’s going to great lengths to obscure details of his far-right agenda.
 
The Arkansas Republican isn’t just endorsing a statewide minimum-wage increase, he’s also trying to position himself as a champion of Medicare’s socialized-insurance program. Cotton continues to vehemently oppose the Affordable Care Act, naturally, but when asked about scrapping Medicaid expansion under the ACA, the congressman dodges – knowing that his position would push many voters away.
 
We’re seeing similar situations elsewhere. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is starting to hedge on the minimum wage; he’s pretending to support the Violence Against Women Act; and he’s run TV ads boasting about using government programs to help bring health care access to struggling families.
 
And Kentucky, like Arkansas, is a southern red state.
 
Rep. Cory Gardner (R), a far-right Senate candidate in Colorado, is pretending to be a pro-contraception environmentalist. Thom Tillis, a very conservative Senate candidate in North Carolina, is doing his best to obscure his agenda, too.
 
As we discussed on Wednesday, for all the talk about the United States being a center-right nation, and this being a terrific year for conservative Republicans, the fact remains that quite a few statewide candidates have decided to move away from the far-right cliff in the hopes of avoiding defeat. It says something important about the state of contemporary conservatism.