Pryor Digs at Cotton as Seat Looks to Be in Trouble

Two Senate candidates faced off last week in a series of debates in the Arkansas race – a high-profile contest many consider key for Republicans’ efforts to win a majority in the upper chamber.

The Senate race in Arkansas is a tight one, with Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, a tea party challenger, holding a narrow lead on incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

Pryor has served in the Senate since 2003 and is running for his third term, while Cotton is a relative newcomer to Washington, beginning his term in 2013.

The race is one of the most expensive in the nation, with both candidates and outside groups spending nearly $36 million, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

Cotton’s campaign has emphasized Pryor’s support for the Affordable Care Act. Both the ACA and President Obama are widely unpopular in Arkansas, where Mitt Romney easily won the 2012 presidential election.

Unlike many Democrats up for re-election, Pryor has not shied away from his support for the president’s signature law. In August, the Arkansas senator released an ad boasting about his vote in favor of Obamacare.

In their Oct. 13 debate, Cotton repeatedly tied Pryor to Obama and his policies. Pryor, on the other hand, attacked Cotton for being beholden to big-money interests.

“Time and time again, Mark Pryor has rubber-stamped Barack Obama’s big government agenda,” Cotton said.

Pryor retorted that he listens to the people of Arkansas and not to “out-of-state billionaires.” He slammed Cotton for attending a fundraiser organized by Charles and David Koch in California, saying the congressman will do anything to “get their money to win this race.”

“They are investing in Tom Cotton just like they would invest in a company. Why? They want to get a payback on their investment, and they will,” Pryor said. “If he’s elected to the Senate, they will get six years of paydays.”

The two candidates also traded barbs on foreign policy.

Cotton, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, said troops should not be ruled out as an option in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

“No serious leader, certainly no commander in chief, would ever take any option off the table, including boots on the ground,” Cotton said. “Because the Islamic State certainly isn’t taking the option off the table.”

He criticized the president for lacking an effective military strategy and making the U.S. look “weak and soft in the world,” adding that Pryor has backed Obama’s “foreign policy of weakness, hesitation, and indecision.”

Pryor accused Cotton of being more interested in spending money on nation building abroad than on domestic needs.

“He’s voted to do things like spend billions of dollars in places like Afghanistan for schools and roads and hospitals. But he’s voted to cut schools, roads and hospitals here in Arkansas,” Pryor said.