Thomas Bryant Cotton is an American politician and attorney serving as the junior United States senator for Arkansas since 2015. A member of the Republican Party, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2015.
After graduating from Harvard College in 1998 and Harvard Law School in 2002, Cotton worked as a federal clerk for a year and as an associate at a Washington, D.C., law firm before enlisting in the U.S. Army in January 2005. He was commissioned as an infantry officer in June and rose to the rank of captain before being honorably discharged in 2009. He served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Fort Myer (Arlington, Virginia), and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Cotton was elected as the U.S. representative for Arkansas's 4th congressional district in 2012 and to the Senate at age 37 in 2014, defeating two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor.
Early life and education
Thomas Bryant Cotton was born on May 13, 1977, in Dardanelle, Arkansas. His father, Thomas Leonard "Len" Cotton, was a district supervisor in the Arkansas Department of Health, and his mother, Avis (née Bryant) Cotton, was a schoolteacher who later became principal of their district's middle school. Cotton's family had lived in rural Arkansas for seven generations, and he grew up on his family's cattle farm. He attended Dardanelle High School, where he played on the local and regional basketball teams; standing 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) tall, he was usually required to play center.
Cotton was accepted to Harvard College after graduating from high school in 1995. At Harvard, he majored in government and was a member of the editorial board of The Harvard Crimson, often dissenting from the liberal majority. In articles, Cotton addressed what he saw as "sacred cows" such as affirmative action. He graduated with an A.B. magna cum laude in 1998 after only three years of study. Cotton's senior thesis focused on The Federalist Papers.
After graduating from Harvard, Cotton was accepted into a master's program at Claremont Graduate University. He left in 1999, saying that he found academic life "too sedentary", and instead enrolled at Harvard Law School. He graduated with a J.D. degree in 2002.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Cotton spent one year as a law clerk for Judge Jerry Edwin Smith of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He then went into private practice as an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C., until he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2005.
Following his active duty service, Cotton went to work for management consulting firm McKinsey & Company before running for Congress in Arkansas's 4th congressional district when Democratic incumbent Mike Ross announced in 2011 that he would not seek reelection.