A record-setting crowd will greet U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., when he speaks at the Northeast Arkansas Political Animals club meeting Friday in Jonesboro at the Hilton Garden Inn. About half of those registered to attend have never been to a meeting, Co-chairwoman Andrea Allen told Talk Business & Politics. Cotton has become a nationally recognized lawmaker in recent years, and he has served as a lightning rod for those who support and oppose his conservative stances on numerous issues.
“We expect the crowd to be cordial,” Allen said. “We have rules, and we think everyone will follow them. This is not a town hall. It’s a private club meeting at a private venue. We are pleased to have the senator, and we’re honored he would come and speak, especially at this time.”
The Jonesboro Police Department has been notified about the meeting, and Cotton will likely have his own security detail, Allen said. Multiple attempts to reach Cotton through his communications department Thursday were unsuccessful.
At least 200 people will be in the crowd, and only those who have reserved a seat will be allowed to enter, Allen said. NEA Political Animals has been in existence since September 2014, and meetings are typically held at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce building. Allen, a Republican, formed the group with Democrat L.J. Bryant. After it was announced that Cotton would speak, the requests became overwhelming.
“We’ve never had a response like this,” she said.
The group was formed to bring Democrats and Republicans to the same venue to discuss political topics and meet lawmakers. The meetings have been informative, and mostly non-eventful, Allen said. This will be the third time Cotton has spoken to the group, but the political landscape across the country has changed dramatically since President Donald Trump took office this year.
Cotton ramped up his national profile as the presidential campaign got into full swing. First elected in 2014, the war veteran and Harvard law graduate emerged as a potential dark horse presidential candidate in 2020 if Trump lost. His willingness to speak with national media outlets has made him into a political celebrity.
Arkansas’ junior senator was thrust into the spotlight last week when he held a town hall meeting in Springdale. Several in the crowd verbally assaulted him on issues ranging from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to Trump’s alleged ties to the Russian government. National news outlets such as CNN, Fox, and MSNBC led their coverage of protestors at Republican lawmakers’ town hall events with footage from Cotton’s encounters at his own. Cotton has been praised for his willingness to engage constituents and is slated to host another town hall in Heber Springs on Saturday with First District U.S. Congressman Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.
At the NEA Political Animals Club, speakers usually give a 20-minute speech and then take questions from the crowd. Cotton will have many supporters at the meeting, but he will undoubtedly get questions from those angry about the last election’s outcome, Allen said. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly misled senators during his confirmation hearing testimony when he said he didn’t have any contact with the Russian government during the last campaign. The subject will almost certainly be broached during the meeting, and Cotton is expected to field questions from reporters after the meeting.
“We started this as an effort to improve our political discourse,” Allen said.