LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ senior U.S. senator is facing a Republican primary challenge from a Central Arkansas businessman who has run against him before.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ senior U.S. senator is facing a Republican primary challenge from a Central Arkansas businessman who has run against him before.


Sen. John Boozman, who was first elected to the Senate in 2010, will square off next month with one of the candidates he defeated in the GOP primary six years ago, Curtis Coleman. The winner of the March 1 primary will face Democrat Conner Eldridge and Libertarian Frank Gilbert in the November general election.


Boozman, 65, of Rogers grew up in Fort Smith and played football for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks while completing pre-optometry requirements at UA. He graduated from the Southern College of Optometry in 1977 and started an optometry practice in Rogers that year with his brother, the late Fay Boozman.


John Boozman served two terms on the Rogers School Board before being elected to the U.S. House in a 2001 special election after Asa Hutchinson left Congress to head the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. After serving for nearly a decade in the House, Boozman won an eight-person GOP Senate primary with 53 percent of the vote, avoiding a runoff, and went on to unseat Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the November 2010 general election with 58 percent of the vote.


He and his wife, Cathy, have three children.


Coleman, 68, of Little Rock was born in Jacksonville, Texas, and has lived in Arkansas for the past 54 years. He attended Central Baptist College in Conway and Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the latter, and studied in the Master of Divinity program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.


Coleman founded North Little Rock-based Safe Foods, a food safety company based in North Little Rock, in 1999 and served as president and CEO until 2009, when he retired from day-to-day operations. He is the founder and chairman of The Institute for Constitution Policy, a nonprofit organization with the stated purpose of educating Americans about the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, and the founder and CEO of ArOne.TV, an Internet television station.


He ran in Arkansas’ 2010 GOP Senate primary and finished fifth with 5 percent of the vote, then ran in the 2014 GOP gubernatorial primary and lost with 27 percent of the vote to Asa Hutchinson’s 73 percent. He and his wife, Kathryn, have three children.


Boozman’s campaign had $1.6 million in cash on hand at the end of 2015, and in January it began running ads on television. Coleman had $5,899 on hand at the end of December and so far has limited his ad buys to less expensive media than television.


In recent interviews, both candidates said they support repealing the Affordable Care Act, securing the nation’s borders, halting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. and ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Each said he wants to reduce federal regulations on businesses and eliminate the threat posed by ISIS, if necessary with boots on the ground but preferably without putting American soldiers in harm’s way.


Their biggest clash was on Boozman’s record in Congress. Coleman said he decided to challenge Boozman because the senator is not the conservative voice Arkansas needs in Washington.


"John voted seven times to increase the debt ceiling. The result of those seven increases in the debt ceiling was $6.3 trillion of additional debt, fully one third of our national debt today," he said.


Coleman said he was particularly concerned by Boozman’s vote in 2014 for a $1 trillion spending bill that included funding for, among other things, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood.


"I’m not running against John because he’s not a likable guy, because he is," he said. "I’m running because his record is, in my opinion, not likable. And I don’t want to send that record back to Washington."


Boozman said he has been called a lot of things, "but not being conservative enough is generally not one of those."


"When you look at the outside groups that rate people and make comparisons, the NRA, Right to Life, Americans For Prosperity, NumbersUSA — and the list goes on and on — I have an A-plus to a B-plus rating with all of those. What I do is do the very best that I can to represent the people of Arkansas in the conservative manner that they expect," he said.


Boozman said the country had to borrow money during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that in the Obama years he voted to raise the debt ceiling when fiscal conservatives in Congress "got dollar-for-dollar concessions and cut spending more than we had in decades."


"That was the trade-off," he said. "It was such a good deal that recently Congress said, ‘We can’t do this, it’s too spartan,’ and broke the spending caps. I voted against the most recent debt ceiling (increase) because of that, because it broke the spending caps."


The 2014 spending bill that Coleman cited averted a government shutdown. Coleman was asked if he would refuse to vote for a bill that would raise the debt ceiling, even to the point of a shutdown.


"Yes I would," he said, adding that there are two ways to look at who is at fault in a government shutdown.


"Are Republicans shutting it down because they refused to violate their principals, or are Democrats shutting it down because they won’t adjust and compromise and make adjustments in the budget to allow the government to continue without increasing its national debt?" he said.


Boozman said he has received letters from people on Social Security, soldiers in Afghanistan and soldiers’ wives in the U.S. worrying about the impact of a government shutdown. Those are the people who are hurt in that situation, he said.


"I don’t think that you should shut down the government. I think that when you do that you’re holding the people of America hostage," he said.


Early voting for the March 1 primary began last Monday.