WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is turning this week to his mother for a helping hand in his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
Avis Cotton is featured in a new ad campaign, trumpeting her son’s service as an infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan as a reason to send him to the Senate. The ad will begin airing Friday in the Jonesboro area, according to the Cotton campaign.
“After Harvard, he gave up a great career to volunteer for the Army. They offered to make him a military lawyer, but Tom insisted on the infantry, just like his dad,” Avis Cotton says in the ad.
Cotton, a Republican who is serving his first term in the U.S. Congress, is challenging Pryor, a Democrat seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate. The election is a year away.
The advertisement marks a shift away from the negative attack ads that have thus far defined the campaign. Cotton’s personal story was a key feature of his successful 2012 campaign for the state’s 4th District congressional seat.
Jeff Weaver, Pryor’s campaign manager, said the senator appreciates Cotton’s service.
“But what will decide this race are Cotton’s irresponsible votes to gut Medicare, Social Security, student loans and the school lunch program,” Weaver said.
In other political developments involving Cotton, the Democratic Party of Arkansas complained Tuesday that one of its staff members was denied entry Saturday to a Town Hall meeting the congressman held in Hot Springs.
“Congressman Cotton blurred the ethical lines that are designed to ensure the public can have complete confidence in the integrity of public officials. Taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for scripted campaign press conferences,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, a spokesman for the Democrats.
Cotton spokeswoman Caroline Rabbitt said Cotton’s office has a standing policy that only credentialed media are permitted to record such events out of concern for constituents. The Democratic staffer was asked to leave when he would not agree to stop recording the event, she said.
“We established this rule earlier this year when constituents complained that they didn’t feel comfortable having non-news related organizations recording them,” Babbitt said.
At least one television station, KATV, was allowed to record the meeting. Cotton’s staff also allowed a member of the Garland County Tea Party to record it.
Clay Herrmann, a real estate broker in Hot Springs, was permitted to record the event after initially meeting some resistance from Rabbitt. His video can be watched onhttp://garlandtea.com.
Herrmann said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he works on a couple of blogs for Tea Party groups as well as Declaration Celebration, a non-profit that focuses on constitutional rights.
Cotton grew up in Dardanelle where his family has a small farm just outside the city limits. His father, Len, retired from the Arkansas Department of Health in 2009 after 37 years working there. His mother retired in 2012 after 22 years as principal of Dardanelle Middle School.
Tom Cotton graduated from Harvard Law School in June 2002, clerked for Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and then worked a year as a lawyer at a Houston, Texas, law firm to pay off his student loans. He was sworn into the U.S. Army in Houston on Jan. 11, 2005, and deployed to Iraq in May 2006 as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division.
He spent about six months patrolling neighborhoods in Baghdad and earned a “Combat Infantryman Badge” that is awarded to infantrymen who actively participate in ground combat.
Cotton, who had been promoted to captain, returned to combat two years later — serving nine months in Laghman Province, Afghanistan, as the operations officer of an 83-member Provincial Reconstruction Team that included NATO forces. He is among more than 54,800 soldiers to receive a Bronze Star for distinguished service in Afghanistan.
Cotton was discharged from active duty in September 2009.
His father served with the 4th Infantry Division and earned the Combat Infantryman Badge for service in Vietnam. Len Cotton has been active in Arkansas’s American Legion Boys State and the Arkansas Veterans Commission.