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With Cotton out, Baker goes to the bank 

Tom Cotton is not running for the U.S. Senate or anything else. He's not taking employment immediately either. It'll be a while before he hangs his lawyer shingle anywhere.

With hunting seasons looming, he intends soon to hit the Arkansas blinds and the woods. He wants to do some thinking and spend some family time. He is planning to be married, though no date is set.

He seems to want to decompress for a while after two stints in Afghanistan and having been discharged from the Army as a captain only days ago.

All the talk had been that he would exit his military service and immediately declare his Republican candidacy for the U.S. Senate as a kind of legend, a 32-year Harvard-educated lawyer from Dardanelle who enlisted and re-upped to serve his country after 9-11 and who wrote a conservatively extolled letter to The New York Times lambasting it for giving away intelligence secrets on how we were tracking and interrupting terrorists' money sources.

Mainly what happened, it appears, is that Cotton let his old high school basketball rival, former Republican state Rep. Michael Lamoureux of Russellville, talk him into considering the race. “Tom's story might be that I got him all strung out on this thing,” Lamoureux, now seeking a state Senate vacancy, says with a chuckle.

Lamoureux tells me I had something exactly right a couple of months ago. That was when I wrote that Cotton would be sitting down soon with state Rep. Gilbert Baker of Conway to discuss the political landscape, and that, when they met, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate next year would be at the table.

They met, Lamoureux says. Baker's body language was that of a candidate. Cotton's was one of contemplation.

Weeks later, as Baker prepared to enter the race, he told me, “Tom Cotton has a timing problem.”

Baker, probably the best political talent available to the state Republican Party right now (Cotton being but a resume as yet, albeit a spectacular one), believed that, if he intended to run, he needed to declare at the first of September at the height of the health care debate's fervor. Then he needed to set out expeditiously to raise as much money as he could in time for the Oct. 15 reporting deadline.

Cotton couldn't make any political move or comment whatsoever so long as he was in the Army, which would be until the last weekend of September.

It now appears that Baker will report raising somewhere between $350,000 and a half-million dollars in September.

Cotton tells me he did have a timing problem, but that it wasn't a matter of a mere month or of his getting intimidated out of the race while he was tied to Army obligations. It was merely that he needs some down time two months after being in Afghanistan.

Lamoureux insists Cotton might be where Baker is now if he had been able to get started a month ago. He also thinks state Sen. Kim Hendren of Gravette complicated the calculus for Cotton by staying in the race and preventing Northwest Arkansas from being wide open to candidates like Baker and Cotton from outside the region.

So now Lamoureux is for Baker, who might cop this Republican nomination without a runoff. Cotton says he's staying out of it, though not the public debate. I asked him about Afghanistan. He said we must send more troops right away to counter the insurgency and that he is a little distressed at signals President Obama may be vacillating.

It sounds like there wouldn't have been anything wrong with Cotton's conservative rhetoric in a Republican candidacy.

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