Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series on the Republican candidates for the 4th District congressional seat.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on the Republican candidates for the 4th District congressional seat.

Tom Cotton is optimistic that his road from the family farm to the front lines of war will take one more unexpected turn.

The 34-year-old lawyer-turned-soldier from Dardanelle is fighting for the Republican nod in Arkansas’ 4th District congressional race. The seat has been occupied for 11 years by Democrat Mike Ross, who announced last summer he would not seek re-election.

The 4th District covers all or parts of 33 counties from southeastern Arkansas to areas in the northwestern part of the state added when congressional district boundaries were redrawn last year.

“I hope I’m the captain of the team this fall on the Republican Party,” Cotton said. “I think that over the course of my life, I’ve developed a particular set of skills, whether it’s being a combat leader in Iraq and Afghanistan or working in business growing up on a farm. It’s prepared me to go to Congress and not just be a back-bench vote.”

Cotton faces another military veteran, John Cowart, 41, and former District 4 candidate Beth Anne Rankin, 41, in the May 22 primary.

“I left the Army a little over two years ago,” Cotton said, “and I’ve never run for office before. This is my first foray.”

Cotton was an infantry officer in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Prior to that, he said, his path was heading in a much different direction.

“Honestly, I planned to be a lawyer,” Cotton said, “Then 9/11 happened my last year of law school and that kind of changed my direction. I wanted to fight on the front lines after that.”

The Harvard Law School graduate did become a lawyer, but only for a couple for years, he said.

As soon as he paid off his student loans, he walked into a recruiting station and asked to be signed up, he said.

“I went to Iraq in 2006 as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne. I returned from there and was reassigned to The Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2008, I volunteered to go to Afghanistan, where I was an operations officer on a reconstruction team.”

What he brings to the political arena is “a conservative voice and advocate from the very first day in Congress.”

“Our district is a lot like the rest of America,” Cotton said. “We face a lot of the same challenges — a federal government that is spending too much and is facing a debt crisis in the very near future that we have to confront today.”

All three candidates point to the economy as an immediate challenge.

“I’m going to fight for policies to make the private sector grow and companies expand, and therefore need to hire,” Cotton said. “We have too much government regulation and spending that takes too much power, influence and money from the private sector. “You have a lot of companies sitting on the sidelines not trying to grow their companies because they don’t know what the next Obama regulation or law is going to be. They could be hiring and expanding, but they’re not. That’s a slow-motion tragedy.”

A goal in office is to fight the 2010 federal health care reform law which Cotton describes as “an unprecedented assault on our freedoms.”

Cotton also takes issue with “an energy policy that doesn’t take advantage of the energy resources we have right here in America, and really, right here in the district.”

Cotton has appeared on national television and radio programs as an expert on America’s policy in Afghanistan. He confidently calls the war in Afghanistan “needed and just.”

“It was the base from which we were attacked on 9/11,” he said. “It was going to be a continued base of operations for international attacks by al-Qaida and its affiliates. In late 2009 as I was leaving the country, we needed more troops. The president sent some, but not all the troops we required.

“Right now, we’re being withdrawn too rapidly. It’s risky and threatens snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We have a job to finish in the eastern side of the country.”

The winner of the Republican primary will face the Democratic winner in November. Q. Byrum Hurst of Hot Springs, D.C. Morrison of Little Rock and state Sen. Gene Jeffress of Louann are seeking the Democratic nomination.

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Chad Hunter writes for the Times Record in Fort Smith.