- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - U.S. Sen. John Boozman drew a primary challenger Monday in his re-election bid in Arkansas next year, as the Republican lawmaker insisted he’s in a strong position despite a recent poll showing him with a 38 percent approval rating.

Curtis Coleman, a North Little Rock businessman, filed paperwork at the state Capitol to challenge Boozman in the March 1 primary. Former federal prosecutor Conner Eldridge, a Democrat, filed last week to challenge the Republican incumbent in the general election.

Coleman said he decided over the weekend to run after being urged to do so by supporters, and he criticized Boozman over past votes to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

“John’s voting record suggests an inclination for bigger, more expensive and more invasive government,” Coleman said before filing.

This is the third time Coleman, who founded a food safety company, has run for statewide office. He received less than 5 percent of the vote in the crowded Republican Senate primary that Boozman won without a runoff. He received 27 percent of the vote in last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary to Asa Hutchinson, who went on to win the general election. Coleman’s campaign last month reported it still owes more than $79,000 in loans and debts from the 2010 race.

Eldridge has had a strong start to fundraising. He reported last month bringing in more than $403,000 during his first three weeks as a candidate, surpassing the $359,000 Boozman raised during the entire three-month fundraising period. Boozman has more than $1.1 million in the bank for his re-election bid.

Boozman, who filed earlier Monday, said he wasn’t concerned about his approval rating in the poll released by the University of Arkansas last week. Eighteen percent of respondents in the annual Arkansas Poll didn’t approve of Boozman’s performance, while 44 percent didn’t know or refused to say. The poll, which surveyed 800 Arkansas residents by phone between Oct. 19 and Oct. 25, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It didn’t ask about Eldridge or the election.

Boozman said his campaign’s internal polling shows him in a much better position and said he’s not worried about his re-election chances.

“We’re working hard and we’re in a lot better shape than I was late January, when I filed five years ago, getting into the race late,” Boozman said after filing.

Boozman unseated Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2010 in a race that primarily focused on her vote for the federal health overhaul. Boozman said he’ll continue pushing for the law’s repeal.

Republicans have won control of statewide and congressional offices Arkansas in recent elections by tying Democrats to President Barack Obama, who remains deeply unpopular in the state.

Boozman and Coleman made their candidacies official as the one-week filing period for state and federal offices ended in Arkansas on Monday. Lawmakers earlier this year moved up the state’s primary from May to March 1, as part of an effort to create a regional nominating contest among Southern states.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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