The first official GOP Congressional debate in the Fourth District was short on fireworks, but long on reasons to return the seat to Republican hands.

Tom Cotton, Beth Anne Rankin and Marcus Richmond touted their conservative credentials and experience at an El Dorado forum hosted by the Union County Republican Committee. The event was live-streamed through TalkBusiness.net in partnership with LobbyUp.

None of the candidates seemed eager to criticize their rivals, but they did focus their attention on a dysfunctional Washington, D.C. and the President.

In her opening remarks, Magnolia native Rankin said, “Government eats freedom,” and she stated that the 2012 election would be “the most critical election of our lifetime.” Rankin frequently referenced her connections to the Fourth District.

“I was born in the Fourth district, was raised in the Fourth district, was educated in the Fourth district, and started my business in the Fourth district,” she said. “I hope the people in the Fourth district will vote for me because they know me.”

Cotton, who lives in Dardanelle, centered on a variety of issues, such as job losses, President Obama, budget deficits, and controlling government spending. He also said that the events of 9-11 sparked his volunteer military service — “the greatest honor of my life” — and led to his tours of duty in the war on terror.

“We weren’t attacked that day for what we had done, we were attacked because of who we are,” Cotton said. “Now, I want to fight in Congress for you.”

Richmond, who grew up and now resides in Scott County, singled out his business, military and family experience. He grew up on a dairy farm and now runs a successful pet registry Internet business as well as a pizza restaurant in the region. Though his military service took him away from Arkansas for awhile, he was eager to return back to his native state. ”

“I’ve always been busy raising a family and raising a business. I knew that this was a place that was a land of opportunity,” said Richmond. “It’s time we sent someone [to Congress] who’s been here in the trenches creating jobs.”

All three candidates argued that government overregulation and excessive tax burdens were stifling economic growth. They all vowed to work to reform or repeal different areas of the federal government on this front.

The debate moderator, GOP Chairman Doyle Webb, also asked questions on illegal immigration, plans for job creation, budget cuts, and deficit spending.

The Fourth District seat is an open seat in 2012 since Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, announced he would not seek re-election last year. Republican John Cowart, a U.S. Marine serving in Afghanstan, was not in attendance.

Democrats Gene Jeffress and D.C. Morrison have said they will seek their party’s nomination.

Talk Business blogger Jason Tolbert has additional observations at this link. You can view a video of the debate here at the LobbyUp UStream page.

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