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Arkansas Sen. Cotton raises political profile

Arkansan mentioned as contender for presidency in 2024 by ALAN FRAM The Associated Press | June 6, 2020 at 3:23 p.m.
Arkansas’ Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, shown at a Senate hearing last month, has drawn notice and has an unusually high profile for a first-term senator. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON -- Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton strides through Capitol hallways, seldom acknowledging reporters' questions. He's been a hard-liner on immigration, Iran and most recently China, enabling him to rise to the ranks of potential 2024 Republican presidential contenders.

"One thing above all else will restore order to our streets: an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers," the 43-year-old Arkansan wrote this week in a New York Times opinion column.

That, along with calling violent protests "carnivals for the thrill-seeking rich as well as other criminal elements," infuriated Democrats and liberals.

Cotton criticized the Times after it released a subsequent statement saying Cotton's essay did not meet its standards. Times employees had rebelled, expressing shame and anger about the piece.

"If the nytimes allows woke 'journalists' to bully it into submission, why should any reader trust that the reporting by the nytimes is fair and objective?" Cotton tweeted Friday.

Cotton's office declined to make him available for this article. But a person close to him, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the lawmaker's thinking, said Cotton would consider serving in the Cabinet for a second Trump term if he's reelected in November or running for president himself in 2024.

An Army combat veteran and Harvard Law School graduate, Cotton's ambition is no surprise in Washington or Arkansas. Notice has been taken of his unusually high profile for a first-term senator and his frequent appearances on TV.

"Cotton is out there every night, and he's winning the Fox GOP primary for 2024," said Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Everything he's doing looks like what a very ambitious person who wants to run for president at the next available time does," said GOP consultant Liz Mair, who says she's "not a fan."

With some protests over police killings of black men veering into violence in New York and elsewhere, Cotton took to Fox on Thursday.

He disputed Defense Secretary Mark Esper's comment that this week's urban turbulence didn't justify deploying troops in cities, saying that was Trump's call. And to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' assertion that Trump was dividing the country and violating the Constitution, Cotton said, "He's wrong on this one."

None of that went over well with Democrats.

"I'm appalled that anyone, let alone a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would advocate for the use of military force to silence dissent," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a fellow member of that panel.

Representing a state that has turned increasingly Republican, Cotton faces reelection in November with no Democratic opponent. He plans to use some time helping GOP Senate candidates including Bill Haggerty in Tennessee and Joni Ernst in Iowa, which holds each presidential cycle's first caucuses.

In an ad that aired earlier this year in Ohio -- a swing state in presidential contests -- Cotton tied together two foes: China and Trump's all-but-certain Democratic presidential opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

"China is the greatest threat to America's security and our values," the announcer says, accusing China of running concentration camps and stealing millions of American jobs. "Career politician Joe Biden is weak on China."

As the spot ends, it shows a split screen of Cotton wearing his combat fatigues and Trump in a Make America Great Again hat. "Senator Cotton is standing with President Trump to take on China and keep America great," the announcer says.

"Sen. Cotton has taken the Trump approach of playing to the fears and darkest, most negative things that appeal to Trump supporters," said Michael John Gray, chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party. "His ambition's been bigger than Arkansas from the moment he sought a seat in the House."

Cotton served six years in the Army in the early 2000s, leading a combat platoon in Iraq and being deployed to Afghanistan. He also spent time in the Old Guard, whose members keep ceremonial watch over the Tomb of Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington.

"He's definitely accumulated the right national security and foreign policy experience to put him on track to run in 2024," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP political consultant and former top congressional aide. He added: "He's not a backslapper. He's a really serious guy."

Cotton served one House term before being elected to the Senate in 2014.

Information for this article was contributed by Andrew DeMillo of The Associated Press.

A Section on 06/06/2020

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