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Cotton coasts to win, Trump nabs Arkansas in GOP dominance

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2020 file photo, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., listens during the Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing in Washington. Six years after being elected in an expensive and heated race, Sen. Cotton is on the ballot again in Arkansas and campaigning hard — just not in his home state. (Drew Angerer/Pool via AP, File)

By ANDREW DeMILLO Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) —

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas won reelection Tuesday in a race that has allowed him to begin laying the groundwork for a potential 2024 White House bid.

President Donald Trump secured Arkansas’ six electoral votes as Republicans maintained their dominance in the solidly red state.

COTTON REELECTED

Cotton defeated Libertarian nominee Ricky Dale Harrington on Tuesday after a campaign in which he ran ads in battleground states and assisted endangered GOP colleagues in the Senate.

The only Democrat who was running against Cotton abruptly withdrew his candidacy last year hours after the filing deadline.

With millions of campaign cash on hand, Cotton ran ads in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. He also made trips to Iowa and New Hampshire. He insisted the moves were about helping Republicans keep the Senate and Trump’s reelection.

Cotton, 43, was first elected in 2014 in a nationally watched campaign where he defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor.

Cotton, who has eagerly taken on national issues popular with the Republican base and hewed closely to Trump’s rhetoric, showed no signs of letting up on that approach during his victory speech Tuesday night.

The Army veteran and Harvard law school graduate criticized athletes who have kneeled in protest during the national anthem and “politicians who want to defund the police.”

“I will never bend the knee to a politically correct mob,” Cotton said.

TRUMP WINS

Trump has won Arkansas’ six electoral votes for the second time.

Trump defeated former Vice President Joe Biden in a state that has remained solidly red over the past several years. Trump easily won the state in the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton.

Trump has remained popular in Arkansas even though dissatisfaction with his handling of the coronavirus hurt his approval ratings nationwide. Arkansas has had more than 114,000 coronavirus cases and has seen a surge in hospitalizations in recent weeks.

WESTERMAN, WOMACK WIN

Republican U.S. Reps. Bruce Westerman and Steve Womack won reelection to their seats.

Westerman defeated Democratic challenger William Hanson and Libertarian Frank Gilbert in the race for Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District, which covers southern and western Arkansas. Westerman, a former state legislator, has held the seat since 2015.

Womack defeated Democratic challenger Celeste Williams and Libertarian nominee Michael Kalagias in the race for Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, which covers northwestern Arkansas. Womack, the former mayor of Rogers, has held the seat since 2011.

Republican Rep. Rick Crawford was reelected to east Arkansas’ 1st District, which he has represented since 2011, without any opposition.

BALLOT MEASURES

Voters approved permanently extending a half-cent sales tax for highways and loosening term limits for legislators, but rejected efforts to impose new restrictions on ballot initiatives.

All three proposals were referred to voters by the majority-Republican Legislature.

The highway tax had the backing of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the state’s top lobbying groups, including the state Chamber of Commerce. An unlikely coalition of groups on the right and left, including Americans for Prosperity and the Sierra Club, campaigned against the measure.

“I’m delighted by the results, and I look forward to building better roads, a stronger economy, and a safer Arkansas in every corner of the state,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

The term limits measure removes the current 16-year cap and instead requires politicians who have served 12 straight years to sit out of the Legislature for four years before running again.

The rejected measure on ballot initiative would have imposed several new limits, including tripling the number of counties where sponsors would have to collect a minimum number of signatures. Lawmakers endorsed the ballot restrictions after the state’s voters in recent years legalized medical marijuana, raised the minimum wage and expanded casino gambling.

GOP GAINS IN STATE SENATE

Republicans expanded their majority in the state Senate and ousted two incumbent Democrats, including one who was defeated by a candidate who was dismissed from high school for wearing a Ku Klux Klan costume for Halloween.

Democratic Sens. Eddie Cheatham and Bruce Maloch were defeated in their reelection bids on Tuesday.

Maloch lost to Charles Beckham III, who faced criticism after the Arkansas Times and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette revealed his 2000 dismissal from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science over the costume. Maloch has served in the Senate since 2013.

Beckham initially denied that he wore the costume but later apologized for “any angst or grievances” he caused when he was younger.

Cheatham, who has served in the Senate since 2013, lost to Republican Ben Gilmore.

In the House, Democratic Rep. Megan Godfrey won reelection against Republican challenger Jed Duggar for a northwest Arkansas seat. Duggar’s family was featured on the reality show “19 Kids and Counting” and his father is a former state representative.