LITTLE ROCK — Republicans appeared headed for a historical sweep of Arkansas U.S. House races in general election balloting Tuesday.

Republicans held commanding leads in three of the state’s four congressional districts in late returns, while Republican Tim Griffin held a steady led over Democratic challenger Herb Rule in the 2nd District. Republican appeared assured of holding all of the state’s congressional seats for the first time as a result of Tuesday’s election.

In the 4th District, GOP newcomer Tom Cotton easily outpolled veteran state Sen. Gene Jeffress, the Democratic challenger for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Congressman Mike Ross. With the secretary of state’s office reporting unofficial results, Cotton led Jeffress 59 percent to 37 percent at 10:45 p.m.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, led Democrat Scott Ellington of Jonesboro 60 percent to 36 percent in the 1st District. In the 2nd District, Griffin was in front of Rule by 51 percent to 44 percent. Republican 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack led Green Party candidate Rebekah Kennedy by 79 percent to 13 percent.

In a victory speech at the Austin Hotel in Hot Springs, Cotton told supporters, "Here in Arkansas tonight we have struck a blow for the spirit of 1776, the spirit of liberty. It is alive and well in 2012."

Cotton said his campaign was not only about taxes and government spending but "about the future of self-government in America, about returning our government to its constitutional roots, about reasserting our natural, God-given rights and reviving the spirit of free enterprise in America."

Cotton, of Dardanelle raised about $2 million for his campaign, more than any other candidate in Arkansas, and blanketed TV airwaves with ads, while Jeffress, of Louann, ran essentially a one-man campaign on a shoestring.

Crawford was once seen by pundits as the most vulnerable of Arkansas’ incumbent congressmen. But Ellington, the 2nd Judicial District prosecutor who is known for brokering a plea deal that released three men convicted of killing three Cub Scouts in West Memphis in 1993, experienced fundraising difficulties. He also went through three campaign managers and was absent from the campaign trail for the month of July while he handled the trial of a man convicted in the shooting death of a Trumann police officer.

Griffin heavily outspent Rule, who was arrested Aug. 9 in Fayetteville and charged with suspicion of driving while intoxicated. Rule, who refused a breathalyzer test, maintained his innocence and was scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 28.

The re-election of Womack, the former Rogers mayor, in the Republican stronghold of Northwest Arkansas was seen as a virtual certainty, especially after Democratic challenger Ken Aden dropped out of the race in July following revelations that claims he made about his military background, including a claim to have served with the Green Berets, conflicted with military records.