GILLETT — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Congressman Tom Cotton were busy shaking hands Saturday night at the annual Gillett Coon Supper, considered by some as Arkansas’ most notorious political event.
Both voiced optimism on their election chances in November, with Pryor saying his re-election bid “looks great” and Cotton, the freshman lawmaker challenging Pryor for his seat in the upper chamber, was equally confident in his search for votes.
Former congressmen Mike Ross, a Democrat, and Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, were courting voters, along with Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman, a member of the GOP, in their campaigns for governor.
Two term-limited office holders, Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, showed up to shake hands and mix with voters.
Larry Bauer, treasurer of the sponsoring Gillett Farmers and Businessmen’s Club, said the dinner was sold out.
“Actually, we oversold it,” he quickly added.
Proceeds from what began as a fundraiser for the Gillett football team in the 1940s now funds college scholarships for Gillett area students since Gillett High School consolidated with neighboring DeWitt.
In addition to mixing with politicians, participants were served raccoon meat, along sides of sweet potatoes, barbecue rice, dinner rolls and cake. Bauer said the organizers prepared 600 pounds of raccoon purchased, with pork ribs and beef brisket served to those who are not connoisseurs of coon.
The politicians got together an hour or so before the coon supper in the barn at former First District Congressman Marion Berry’s farm.
Cotton, accompanied by his mother, Avis, said he has been told a politician misses the Gillett supper at their own peril.
“This is one you don’t want to miss,” he observed.
“It’s looking great,” said Pryor, who was accompanied by a number of aides and a film crew. “The voters are having an opportunity to examine my record in the Senate for 11 years.”
Both Hutchinson and Ross voiced optimism about their campaigns.
Ross said he has a record that voters can examine, while Hutchinson said Southeast Arkansas voters are “fed up” with Obamacare and Democratic Party policies.
There was a long line when the doors were opened at 6:30 p.m. Saturday despite the chill in the air.
Keith Sowerheaver came dressed for a coon supper, wearing a coonskin hat he said he made when he was 13 and buckskin boots. Accompanied by his grandson, he said he made the hat 45 years earlier.
One longtime master of ceremonies noted the dinner is more than speeches of politicians who represent the Gillett area.
“It is for the students, not the politicians, he added.