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U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton expected to announce challenge to U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor

First-term GOP congressman has scheduled a hometown event on August 6 to address his plans to challenge Pryor, the Democratic incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — After just a single term in the U.S. House, Republican Tom Cotton is expected to announce his plans to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor next week.

Cotton, 36, is hosting a barbecue in his hometown of Dardanelle on August 6. While his campaign is not officially saying the congressman will kick off his Senate bid at the event, local Arkansas media are citing sources saying Cotton has decided to challenge Pryor, who is seeking a third term.

Not waiting for Cotton formally announce, the Pryor camp came out guns blazing, saying Cotton “has put his own political career ahead of the people of Arkansas and sided with Washington insiders and special interests.”

“When the people of our state review Tom Cotton’s record, they won’t like what they see,” the campaign said in a statement.


U.S. Represenative Tom Cotton

Cotton has been widely expected to run against Pryor, who is seem as one of the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents facing the voters in 2014. The race is considered pivotal for Republican hopes of wresting a Senate majority away from Democrats.

A graduate of Harvard Law School who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a captain in the U.S. Army, Cotton returned to Arkansas in 2012 to seek the 4th District congressional seat, which takes in rural areas south, west and northwest of metro Little Rock.

With funding from the Club for Growth and other national conservative groups, he easily won the seat, taking almost 60 percent of the vote in the general election.

In a sign of how contentious his battle with Pryor is likely to be, outside groups have poured more than $1 million in advertising into the race a full 15 months before voters go to the polls. Pryor has already been up on television, and Cotton has more than $1 million banked for the race.


U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

Pryor, 50, is scion of a prominent Arkansas political family. His father, David Pryor, served as governor and spent 18 years in the Senate before retiring in 1979.

Six years ago, Republicans didn’t even field a candidate against Pryor. But this time around, the GOP smells blood in the water, particularly because of Pryor’s deciding vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

President Obama had a miserable showing in the Natural State in 2012, losing to Mitt Romney by nearly 24 points. In addition to Arkansas, Senate races in two other Southern states, Louisiana and North Carolina, feature Senate races in 2014 where Democratic incumbents are running in states Obama lost.

However, Pryor has broken with Obama and the left wing of his party on a number of issues that are likely to help his re-election effort back home. His is just one of four Senate Democrats who still oppose same-sex marriage and also voted against a bill that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.

One issue Pryor is likely to raise in the race is Cotton’s vote against the farm bll in House, which was defeated in June after a rebellion by GOP backbenchers. He was the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the measure, which was supported by many Arkansas farm groups.

Cotton, who grew up on a farm in Yell County that his family still owns, has said he opposed the bill because it contained too little aid for farmers and too much funding for federal nutrition programs. He voted for a revised farm bill after the nutrition funding was stripped out.

Cotton’s decision to jump into the Senate race will open up the 4th District House seat, which is expected to draw a large number of candidates. On the Republican side, Lieutenant Gov. Mark Darr  and State House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman have expressed interest. Among Democrats, State Senator Bruch Maloch and State Represenative Jeff Wardlaw have been looking at the race.

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