story by Michael Tilley
At 6-foot, 5 inches, Tom Cotton is likely to stand out no matter how packed becomes the GOP primary in the 4th Congressional District race.
The lanky 34-year-old lawyer and soldier from Dardanelle considers President Abraham Lincoln his “beau ideal” of a statesman — a phrase Lincoln once attached to Henry Clay, Cotton noted. Cotton was quick during a recent interview to offer a Lincoln quote in answer to a couple of questions. To stretch the connection, a Cotton sporting a scruffy beard would bear a resemblance to Lincoln.
Politically, Cotton is already standing out in GOP circles. He was the first Republican to enter the 4th District race and has caught the eye of the National Republican Congressional Committee. On Aug. 18, Cotton landed on the NRCC “On the Radar” list because he has raised $100,000. Cotton is one of only six Republicans in the their Young Guns program to make this list for 2012.
It is expected that the open Congressional seat — U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, said July 25 he would not seek re-election — will attract several candidates from both parties.
To date, Cotton’s competition in the race is Scott County businessman Marcus Richmond. Beth Anne Rankin, who lost to Ross in the November 2010 general election, is considering a second shot at the seat. There is not yet much noise on the Democratic side, with Arkansas Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann, one of the few Democrats to express interest in the race.
NEW DISTRICT REALITIES
More people in the Fort Smith region will express a greater interest in the 4th District candidates now that new Congressional lines have carved up the area between the 3rd and 4th Districts. Geographically, more of the Fort Smith region is now in the 4th District than the 3rd.
Crawford County will be split almost evenly down the middle with the western half in the 3rd District and the eastern half in the 4th. The city of Alma — about 5,000 people — will be split down the middle, with 2 city precincts voting in the 3rd District and 2 precincts voting in the 4th District.
Franklin County is moved entirely out of the 3rd District and into the 4th District. Madison County is also moved out of the 3rd District into the 4th.
Lavaca and environs in the northeastern corner of Sebastian County are pulled into the 4th District. Roughly one-third of Sebastian County below Greenwood and below Fort Chaffee and Chaffee Crossing will be in the 4th District.
The new district gives parts of the Fort Smith region more importance, especially for the GOP primary, Cotton asserted. His calculations show Sebastian County and Crawford County as the 4th and 5th largest, respectively, in terms of Republican voters.
It’s a district Cotton says he can win. Not only have the demographics changed, but President Barack Obama, dragging national economic woes, will be at the top of the Democratic ticket in November 2012, Cotton explained.
“I think we have a chance to have a real conservative from the district,” Cotton said.
Cotton appears to be a conservative straight out of Hollywood casting.
He was born and raised in Dardanelle where he helped with the work on his family’s cattle farm. The Yell County native graduated with honors from Harvard College — yes, THE Harvard College — and Harvard Law School. He was moving up in the legal world when Sept. 11 happened.
Like thousands of other Americans, Cotton felt obligated to help the country respond to the attacks. He joined the U.S. Army, and deployed to Baghdad as an Infantry officer with the 101st Airborne. When that rotation ended, Cotton was a platoon leader with the prestigious The Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery where he helped conduct military burials. He returned to combat in 2008 as the operations officer for a counterinsurgency and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.
Military citations and accomplishments earned by Cotton include the Bronze Star, Ranger Tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and Iraq Campaign Medal.
He was hired by the global consulting company McKinsey & Company after ending his active duty U.S. Army career. There he consulted with companies involved in agribusiness, health care, oil and gas, food processing, insurance and aerospace. He left the company when he decided to seek the 4th District seat.
He clearly is conservative on tax and spending issues. He would not have voted for the debt-ceiling deal, saying instead that Congress should have passed the more conservative bill that would have cut spending and pushed a balanced budget amendment. All Republicans in Arkansas’ Congressional delegation voted for the debt ceiling deal that was hammered out between House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and President Obama.
Cotton criticized the House Republican leadership, saying it was “unwise to have secret negotiations” with the White House and Congressional Democrats.
Cotton also rejects the question of an acceptable ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. The question was made famous during a recent debate among GOP Presidential candidates, when all candidates said they would not accept a deal that called for $10 in cuts for every $1 in tax increases.
“I dispute the premise of the question,” Cotton swiftly responded, adding that “those spending cut deals never seem to work out.”
His belief is that the tax increases will go into effect immediately, and that a future Congress will “just lose the discipline” and not follow through with the spending cuts. Preventing Congress from losing fiscal discipline is also why Cotton advocates for a balanced budget amendment.
If elected, Cotton’s criticism of GOP leadership may not wane. He said he will not be a Representative on which the Republicans can always count on to vote for the party plan.
Cotton, who is pro-life, pro-second amendment and a self-professed “strong national security conservative," says the top issue in the race is the economy.
“As I’ve been doing this (traveling in the district), the economy and the weakness is at the top of the list,” Cotton said.
The morning of the interview with Cotton, it was announced that Arkansas’ jobless rate in July increased to 8.2%, up from 8.1% in June. The rate is the highest seen since April 1987, and marks the 29th consecutive month the Arkansas jobless rate has been above 7%.
Cotton believes his focus on being a leader on improving the country’s financial situation will resonate well throughout the district.
“From a policy standpoint, there are certain core policies that are good anywhere ... like tax reform and job creation,” Cotton said.