Ricky Harrington had a good week.

The Libertarian challenger to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton released a poll Oct. 10 showing he trailed Cotton only 49 percent to 38 percent, with 13 percent undecided. Assuming the poll is accurate – and yes, Harrington paid for it – that’s almost unheard of for a third party candidate.

It’s also not that surprising. Cotton is a polarizing figure. His approval-disapproval rating was 44-47 percent in a June poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College. Independents disapproved, 39-51.

Also, Harrington is the only challenger after the Democrat dropped out hours after the filing period ended. Libertarians haven’t really cracked the 3 percent threshold of statewide support in Arkansas, but Democrats generally run close to 40 percent. It’s likely Harrington is winning their anti-Cotton vote by default.

The poll numbers gained Harrington some attention, and he’s been raising a little money lately – around $50,000, his campaign said. It’s certainly nowhere near Cotton’s millions, but he could afford to run a poll.

Then on Wednesday, Harrington had the stage to himself during the debates organized by Arkansas PBS. Cotton declined to participate. It wasn’t worth his time, and he saw more harm than good in sharing the stage with his opponent.

All the state’s other Republican congressmen participated in their debates. That includes the two who are safely headed toward re-election in races contested by both Democrats and Libertarians.

But Cotton has been busy. He makes frequent national media appearances and earlier this week campaigned in Georgia for a fellow Republican senator. He’s advertising in Arkansas, of course, but he’s sort of blowing off this race as he lays the groundwork for a 2024 presidential campaign.

Arkansas PBS decided to give the whole hour to Harrington, as it did previously when a sitting congressman declined to participate. I was one of the questioners with an up close, albeit socially distanced, view of Harrington. The missionary-preacher-prison chaplain came across as knowledgable, likable and in command of the stage.

There are reasons Libertarians don’t have widespread support. The major parties control the money and the mechanisms of politics. The system almost forces voters to choose either a Republican or a Democrat, even if only because they consider one to be the lesser of two evils.

And the Libertarians are simply outside the political mainstream. Many party members seek to slash government almost out of existence. There’s no market for that. Americans like to talk about cutting government more than they actually want to do it.

But Harrington, a former Democrat, is more selectively Libertarian. He said on Arkansas PBS, “I’m definitely not in favor of cutting programs that help out people because nobody is living the high life on $750 a month.”

A few other highlights …

He said he personally benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, while acknowledging some people didn’t. He suggested it should be “amended,” not repealed and replaced, and that government and private options for insurance should coexist.

He’s passionate about criminal justice reform, which was influenced by his work as a prison chaplain and employee. He says the United States imprisons too many people, and the experience only leads them to become better criminals. Cotton has said the country doesn’t put enough people in jail.

He favors reducing America’s overseas military involvements. Cotton, the combat veteran, supports an aggressive foreign policy.

He doesn’t want the police to be militarized or the military to do police work. The military, he said, is trained to “crush the enemies of America.” A militarized police force sends a message that the people are the enemy. Cotton suggested earlier this year that the military be deployed against rioting and looting that occurred after the police killing of George Floyd.

A Harrington victory over Cotton would be a bigger upset than if the Razorbacks beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. But you can’t win if you don’t show up, and sometimes when you do, you have center stage to yourself.

Harrington made the most of that moment. He had a good week at just the right time. Early voting starts Monday.

Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.