Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton on Tuesday stumped for GOP gubernatorial nominee Sarah Huckabee Sanders and U.S. Sen. John Boozman in Jacksonville and assailed their Democratic opponents.
Cotton's remarks came at the outset of a campaign luncheon for Sanders, who was accompanied by Boozman and Cotton at the Jacksonville Community Center, before an estimated 325 people. Tuesday was the second day of early voting in the Nov. 8 general election.
The campaign event came shortly after Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Jones announced that he is signing a nonpartisan pledge that affirms his commitment to a safe, fair and transparent election, and he called on Sanders to join him in signing the pledge.
Sanders, Jones and Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. are vying in the general election to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Boozman faces challenges from Democratic nominee Natalie James and Libertarian candidate Kenneth Cates for his U.S. Senate seat.
Cotton, who was re-elected to a six-year term in the Senate in 2020, told the crowd that "Sarah and John really do need your support in these last two weeks before the Election Day."
He said Boozman has been a great friend and partner for him in the U.S. Senate and Sanders "has been a great champion of the Republican Party and the conservative cause for years," and that he's grateful Sanders is putting her name on the ballot to lead the state into the future.
Referring to the Arkansas PBS debates Friday, Cotton said Sanders takes seriously the crime wave and the drug epidemic that are ravaging the state's communities.
"Her opponent seemed more focused on helping criminals than helping victims," he said, and "would let more criminals out onto our streets, wouldn't send them to jail where they belong in the first place."
Cotton said Sanders' opponent "also turns a blind eye to the drugs that are ravaging our communities," and "they have caused the death of more than 500 of our fellow Arkansans just last year alone."
Sanders has a plan to get tough on criminals, to lock them up and to protect Arkansans, he said.
Cotton said Sanders always wants to make sure "we protect innocent life in our state," and her opponent seems more like President Joe Biden and other Democrats, who he said couldn't even say they would protect an innocent unborn child up to the moment of birth.
Afterward, Jones said Arkansans are exhausted by Cotton's type of divisive politics and that he doesn't hold the extreme positions that Cotton and Sanders are projecting onto him.
"It's an attempt to make us afraid instead of building toward a better future that we can achieve together," Jones said in a written statement. "At no point did Senator Cotton get close to my actual platform.
"We can support law enforcement, keep communities safe, AND do it in a way that is consistent with my faith (and the faith they profess)," Jones said.
He said "I am, however, deeply concerned about Mrs. Sanders's extreme position that offers zero exception even for the life of a mother or rape or incest of a child.
"As the father of three daughters and the husband to an amazing wife, I do not want Mrs. Sanders or any legislator making those complex and deeply personal decisions for my family," Jones said.
Cotton told the crowd that Arkansas is blessed with natural resources from farmers, ranchers, foresters and oil and gas, that Boozman has been a champion for hardworking Arkansans, and Boozman's opponent doesn't seem to think they should be in business and the state shouldn't harness its natural resources, oil and gas to heat homes and to run trucks and tractors on the farm.
He said Boozman's opponent "seems to think that in every crime there are two victims -- the victim and the criminal himself who is the victim of some kind of oppressive society."
Boozman knows the way to stop crime in America is to crack down on criminals and put them away, Cotton said.
Afterward, James said Cotton's talking points about her were inaccurate.
"Let's deal with facts and not fallacy," she said.
"It is nice to see Tom Cotton is in Arkansas."
Cotton said Boozman will be chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee when Republicans "take back the U.S. Senate." and that Boozman is the kindest, most decent man in the Senate."
Sanders said she worked to help elect Boozman and Cotton to the U.S. Senate, and she is looking forward to working closely with them as the state's next governor.
The daughter of former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee said she would work with legislators on a daily basis as governor, and she wants voters to re-elect state Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, and Rep. Karilyn Brown, R-Sherwood.
"This state is fired up and ready to see a new generation of leadership step in," said Sanders, a former White House press secretary for Republican President Donald Trump. She said she would be a fighter to take on Biden and his "bad policies" and a leader to implement good ideas as policies for the state.
In the new release Tuesday morning in which he announced he was signing the Safe and Free Elections Pledge, Jones said it's important that every candidate and citizen in America value and support safe, secure and fair elections.
"I sign this because we can no longer take for granted support of our most basic cornerstones of democracy," he said. "The events of the last few years -- including most notably the January 6 insurrection and also efforts across the U.S. by some to weaponize local and state elections for political advantage -- put at risk the very foundation of our democracy."
Jones said he's calling on Sanders to join him in signing the pledge, and it's time for candidates and leaders to find common ground from which neighbors can begin to rebuild relationships and rebuild confidence in America.
Asked about Jones calling on her to sign the pledge, Sanders told reporters "I think we absolutely have to have integrity in our elections" and that she has been talking about that for a while.
"We are lucky that we have a state that has passed legislation to do exactly that, make sure that we have free, fair elections," she said, adding that she is going to continue to support that.
Last week Sanders released her education plan that she has called Arkansas LEARNS, which prioritizes literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and school safety.
"We are definitely looking at an across-the-board increase," for teachers, Sanders said Tuesday in response to a reporter's question about whether she would include a pay raise beyond merit pay for teachers.
She wants to look at how to best incentivize teachers and to make sure they have the resources and the training to be successful in the tasks they are asked to accomplish, she said.
Sanders said the state spends about 54% of the state's budget on education programs and must do a much better job of using these funds. She said she believes much of her plan to improve education could be accomplished with existing state funds.
Asked whether whether she wants create a full-blown educational voucher program with the state having the Succeed Scholarship program and the Philanthropic Investment In Arkansas Kids program, Sanders said the Succeed Scholarship program is a great program that can be expanded further.
"I think we have to allow parents to make the best decision for their kids and there are a lot of different factors in that," she said. "I think part of that is curriculum transparency, making sure parents know what and how their kids are being taught. These are things that we have to look at in making sure that each individual family has the ability to make the best decision possible for their kid."