Cotton stirs 2024 speculation with New Hampshire trip to help Republicans

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Republican Sen. Tom Cotton’s on a mission.

The conservative lawmaker from Arkansas and strong supporter of President Trump doesn’t face a Democratic opponent as he runs for re-election this year, so he’s crisscrossing the country this summer and autumn on behalf of President Trump and down-ballot Republicans who face stiffer challenges in November’s general election.

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“The stakes of this election, I don’t think could be any higher,” the 43-year old Cotton said in a sit-down interview with Fox News. “What concerns me about the risk of losing the White House and losing the Senate is the radical agenda the Democrats have proposed.”

Cotton packed a lot into his brief trip: He headlined a meet and greet at the president’s New Hampshire re-election headquarters, keynoted the Hillsborough County GOP’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner – which is a major fundraiser for Republicans in state’s most populous county – and was the main attraction at a fundraiser for retired Gen. Don Bolduc, one of the two Republicans in the running to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the general election.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas headlines a meet and greet with GOP activists at the Trump re-election campaign's New Hampshire headquarters, in Manchester, N.H. on July 31, 2020

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas headlines a meet and greet with GOP activists at the Trump re-election campaign’s New Hampshire headquarters, in Manchester, N.H. on July 31, 2020

But the trip to New Hampshire – the state that for a century has held the first primary in the race for the White House  — is sparking more speculation that the veteran Army infantry officer who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars may have his own national ambitions in 2024.

“I know that that kind of speculation is common in politics but I’m here because I’m focused on the 2020 election,” Cotton emphasized. “I could avoid that speculation by not coming but New Hampshire could be the center of the political universe and that’s why I’m here. The four electoral votes in New Hampshire could make the difference the way the other states break on whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins this election.”

Regardless of whether the president wins or loses re-election, there will likely be a spirited battle for the GOP 2024 nomination – and for the future of the party in a post-Trump world.

Cotton didn’t reveal any cards, telling Fox News: “I want to make America a safe prosperous, and great country…. I’m going to be traveling all around the country to make sure that Republicans win.”

He noted that he was in Tennessee last week campaigning for Republican Senate candidate Bill Hagerty and will soon be in Colorado to help out GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, who faces a difficult re-election.

Asked again if a potential White House run in 2024 is something he’s mulling, Cotton answered “I’ll continue to try to focus on the ways we can make America a better place for all of our citizens in any way whatsoever.”

Longtime Republican consultant Jim Merrill – who’s New Hampshire based – pointed out that “it’s a time honored tradition of future Republican presidential candidates coming to New Hampshire ostensibly to campaign for the incumbent president but in reality they’re laying the groundwork for a future run.”

Merrill, a veteran of the George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio presidential campaigns, said he thinks “it’s very clear that Sen. Cotton is planning on running in 2024 and laying the groundwork for whatever the post-Trump future is for the Republican Party and he clearly intends to have a seat at that table and his visit is very clear evidence of that.”

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Cotton’s been grabbing attention since he first won election to the House of Representatives in 2012. Two years later he ousted Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor in the 2014 GOP wave election. He upped his national profile soon after entering the Senate by taking a strong stand against the Iranian nuclear deal forged by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

He stressed that “I’ve had a very good working relationship with the president from the very beginning of his campaign in 2015 that’s only improved over time. It’s paid real dividends I think for the people of Arkansas and all of America.”

When asked if he’d be opening to serving in the administration if Trump wins re-election to a second term, Cotton said he’ll continue to serve in the Senate.

But he quickly added that “I’ll always listen to invitations to serve in other ways” and that “I’ll always take the president’s call.”

Cotton visited New Hampshire the day after the president floated the possibility of delaying November’s election as he once again charged that in a tweet mail in voting  on a “universal” scale would lead to “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.”

The trial balloon on delaying the election was quickly shot down not only by Democrats but also by the top Republicans in Congress. On Friday, hours before Cotton’s interview with Fox News, Trump doubled down on his claims that expanded mail-in balloting will bring the “greatest election disaster in history.”

The senator firmly said that “Election Day is not moving.”

“In fact, I want Election Day to get here as fast as it can so we can beat Nancy Pelosi,” Cotton added.

But he said that “the president raised an important point. What is often called mailed in voting should be called mailed out voting.”

“I think voting by mail opens a lot of doors for fraud,” Cotton argued.

Election experts have said that voting by mail can be more susceptible to fraud than casting a ballot in person, but they’ve seen no evidence of widespread fraud or that absentee balloting favors Democrats. However, the massive increase in absentee balloting places an extra burden on already stressed-out state and county election officials and on a U.S. Postal Service facing financial and manpower deficits.

Cotton highlighted that “I think our states can take the prudent responsible steps to have the kind of traditional in-person voting, frequently spread over a number of weeks for early voting up to and including Election Day, in addition to having absentee balloting of the traditional kind where people who are sick or medically at risk, or who are elderly who may not want to go out for early voting or on Election Day to vote. I think that’s the way to manage the risk that the virus poses to our election process itself.”

The senator’s grabbed plenty of attention this summer.

Cotton’s trip to New Hampshire comes just a few days afer he sparked controversy over comments regarding slavery.

And in June, he grabbed headlines due to a controversy over an opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times in which he called for the U.S. military to be deployed in cities engulfed in unrest following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police.

At the beginning of this year, Cotton was one of the first lawmakers in Congress to raise red flags about the coronavirus pandemic and has repeatedly slammed Beijing’s handling of the virus, which originated in China.

The senator highlighted a bill he introduced in April “to make China pay for this pandemic – literally make them pay in our American courts. We did that for the victims of 9/11, we should do it for the victims of this virus as well.”

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