WASHINGTON — A day after he was sworn into office, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton stood on the House floor and cast a vote against legislation needed for the government to pay flood claims from Hurricane Sandy.
The vote — just the seventh cast by the Republican from Dardanelle — was the first where he stood alone among the Arkansas delegation. It would not be the last time for the freshman who recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.
On 25 other roll calls, Cotton was on the opposite side of fellow GOP Reps. Steve Womack of Rogers, Rick Crawford of Jonesboro and Tim Griffin of Little Rock, including votes on agriculture, student loans and the federal budget.
As the 2014 Senate campaign opens, Democrats have seized on Cotton’s voting record as they seek to define the farm boy, Harvard Law grad, war veteran-turned-politician as an extremist who puts his conservative ideology ahead of the interests of Arkansans.
"I don’t know who Mr. Cotton’s been voting for but it hasn’t been for Arkansas," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., just days after Cotton announced he would challenge Pryor’s bid for a third Senate term.
For his part, Cotton has not shied away from his voting record and in particular his willingness to stand on his own on important issues.
"Some people say I am a young man in a hurry. Well, guess what? They are right. When problems are this severe, I am in a hurry to solve them. Whether I have to stand up to Barack Obama or stand up to the leaders of my own party — which I have proven I will do — I will stand with you and I will stand with Arkansas," Cotton said. "I will do the right thing even when it is the hard thing."
Cotton has cast 416 roll call votes on bills and amendments that have come before the House this year, compiling a record that for the most part resembles a Republican mainstay.
He has voted with the majority of the House Republican Caucus nearly 94 percent of the time, including its continuing effort to defund and defang the Affordable Care Act, known familiarly as Obamacare.
Among the Arkansas delegation, Cotton has voted with Womack 92.5 percent of the time, 91.1 percent with Griffin and 90.6 percent with Crawford.
But Cotton also has voted 26 times in opposition to all three — more often than the others have stood alone combined.
Crawford has stood alone on seven votes, Griffin and Womack on five.
The three House Republicans from Arkansas are backing Cotton for Senate and say any differences are overshadowed by their overall agreement on conservative values.
But, Cotton’s solo votes — where he stood outside the Arkansas delegation — do offer some measure of where his conservative instincts differ from the others.
While no one in the House voted exactly the same way, three members matched him on 20 of 26 roll calls:
—Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., a self-professed budget hawk, earned an A+ rating from the conservative Club for Growth during the 112th Congress.
—Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., says his voting philosophy is built on a belief in limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty.
—Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., was a conservative talk show host before joining Congress.
For conservative activists, eight of the 26 roll calls have been noted as of particular importance. Cotton sided with them on each, and one in particular stands out.
In June, Cotton voted against a farm bill, saying that he opposed the decades-old marriage of farm and nutrition programs continued under the bill. Arkansas’ agricultural community widely supported the farm bill, as did the rest of the delegation.
Three conservative groups — Heritage Action for America, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks — each issued legislative alerts expressing their opposition to the bill.
Club for Growth has endorsed Cotton for Senate. Heritage Action for America is the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. Billionaire businessman David Koch founded FreedomWorks.