LITTLE ROCK — Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and Democratic challenger Josh Mahony filed paperwork Monday to run against each other next year in Arkansas, as dozens of candidates for state and federal seats made their bids official months before a primary that was moved up to attract more presidential hopefuls.
Cotton and Mahony were among the candidates who appeared at the Capitol for the start of the filing period, which ends Nov. 12. The state's primary and nonpartisan judicial elections will be held on March 3. Cotton, who was first elected to the Senate in 2014 after defeating incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, has far outpaced Mahony in fundraising for next year's race.
"There's more work to be done, and I hope the people of Arkansas will see fit to send me back to the United States Senate so I can continue that work," Cotton told reporters after filing his paperwork.
Mahony, who lost a race for a congressional seat in northwest Arkansas last year, said he would have the resources to take on Cotton next year. No other Democrats have announced a bid for the Senate seat. Libertarian candidate Ricky Dale Harrington Jr. and Independent candidate Dan Whitfield also filed Monday.
"What's going to make us competitive is going around to every county and visiting with as many people as we can in every county in this state," Mahony said.
Arkansas lawmakers this year voted to move up the state's primary, normally held in May, to March. Under the measure, the state's primary in non-presidential years will remain in May. Democratic Party Chairman Michael John Gray said he expected the state to get attention from some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls because of the earlier date. Representatives for Democratic hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders filed Monday.
"With this many candidates and this early of a primary, Arkansas is going to play a role," Gray said.
All four of Arkansas' Republican U.S. House members are running for re-election next year. Rep. French Hill, who represents central Arkansas' 2nd District, filed paperwork to run Monday. Democrat Celeste Williams, who is challenging Republican Rep. Steve Womack in northwest Arkansas' 3rd District, also filed. Republicans also hold a majority in both chambers of the state Legislature.
A lingering question is whether a lawmaker who was ousted after he pleaded no contest to failing to pay state income taxes will try to file again for his old seat. Former Rep. Mickey Gates, a Republican, has said he plans to run again but a state law prevents anyone who pleads no contest to a "public trust crime" from running for or serving in the Legislature. Gates has argued that law is unconstitutional.
State Republican Party Chairman Doyle Webb said he thinks it's possible Gates won't run, but declined to say what he'd do if the ex-lawmaker filed.
"I have advice, but I'll wait and see if he comes to file," Webb said.
The March election is also expected to feature a heated race for the state Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Jo Hart, who hasn't said whether she'll seek re-election. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Morgan "Chip" Welch has said he's running for the seat and Barbara Webb, chief administrative law judge for the Workers' Compensation Commission, also announced she's running. Webb is married to state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb. Arkansas' high court races in recent years have been dominated by spending from outside conservative groups.
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