LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Vowing to complete a takeover of the state's top offices after recent GOP gains, Republicans running for Arkansas governor and a U.S. Senate seat were among the dozens of candidates who made their bids official as the filing period opened Monday.
Republican Senate hopeful Tom Cotton joined gubernatorial rivals Asa Hutchinson and Curtis Coleman in filing paperwork at the state Capitol, the official kickoff of the 2014 campaign. By the end of the day, 136 people had filed for office.
The filing period for state and federal office in Arkansas ends at noon on March 3.
Republican Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, who is seeking re-election, was the first to have her paperwork stamped and filed by election officials.
"I'm running for my last term," said Bledsoe, R-Rogers, who has served in the Senate since 2009 and had served three terms in the House before that. "I've never been first before, so I thought I'd get here early and just be number one."
Each of the state's seven constitutional offices will be on the ballot this year, along with all 100 House seats, half the state Senate and Arkansas' four U.S. House seats. Most of the attention, however, is expected to focus on Cotton's bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.
The two rivals and outside groups have already spent more than $7.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"I think Arkansans are ready for a change," Cotton, a freshman congressman who represents south Arkansas, told reporters after filing. "They're ready to move the state in a new direction and turn around some of the damage that's been caused by the Obama agenda and get Arkansas back to work."
In a statement released by his campaign, Pryor criticized Cotton over votes on issues such as student loans and accused his rival of paying more attention to special interests than the state.
"I welcome Tom Cotton into this race, which is about who voters trust to put Arkansas first," Pryor said.
Hutchinson also cast his candidacy as a chance to move the state in a different direction. The former congressman won the party's gubernatorial nomination in 2006, but lost the general election to now-Gov. Mike Beebe. Beebe, a Democrat, can't run for re-election because of term limits.
"This election will set the stage for Arkansas' future," Hutchinson said. "Whenever you look at this state, I believe we are at a turning point as to whether we have a period of excellence in education and job creation and efficiency in state government, and that's the vision I want to bring to the state of Arkansas."
Coleman said he felt good about his chances for the GOP nomination, though he has struggled in fundraising against Hutchinson.
Former Congressman Mike Ross is the only announced Democratic candidate.
"We're going to beat (Hutchinson) with hard work and a ground team and the best message in Arkansas," said Coleman, the founder of a North Little Rock food safety company.
Republicans have made major gains in Arkansas over the past two elections. The GOP now controls both chambers of the Legislature, all four U.S. House seats, one U.S. Senate seat and two of the constitutional offices.
The two candidates that Democrats are relying on to win back congressional seats were also among the first to file. Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt filed to run for the 4th District seat held by Cotton, while former North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays put in for the 2nd Congressional District.
"We're looking forward to talking to folks and doing the things you've got to do to put together a successful campaign," Hays said
House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, one of two Republicans running for the 4th District, filed Monday. State Rep. Ann Clemmer and Little Rock banking executive French Hill filed paperwork to seek the GOP nomination for the 2nd District.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who currently represents the 2nd District, and state Rep. Andy Mayberry filed Monday to run for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. Republican U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford and Steve Womack also filed to run for re-election.
Arkansas Secretary of State: http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/Pages/default.aspx