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GOP challenger Tom Cotton fires first salvo against Mark Pryor in Arkansas Senate race

Cotton puts up attack ad going after Pryor over Obamacare’s special exemptions for congressional staffers

(See ad below)

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CFP) — The first attack ad of the 2014 Arkansas Senate race features an goose frolicking around the Capitol, coupled with a very prominent coupling of President Obama with incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is seeking Pryor’s seat, began airing an ad this week entitled “What’s Good for the Goose” that links Senator Pryor’s 2009 vote in favor of Obamacare to the administration’s decision to exempt congressional staffers from getting coverage under the new health care law.

The ad features text saying that Pryor “voted to make you live under Obamacare,” then mentions the exemption, which it terms “special subsidies for Mark Pryor.” It ends with the tagline, “Pryor with Obama, voting against Arkansans,” under side-by-side pictures of the senator and president.

In a statement, Pryor’s campaign dismissed Cotton’s broadside as “frivolous and false.” But the senator has so far not aired a rebuttal ad.

Pryor did vote for Obamacare. However, the exemption that keeps congressional staffers from being forced into the new health care exchanges was initiated by the Obama administration, not Congress, although lawmakers lobbied for the change.

Republicans in the House, including Cotton, have been trying to overturn the administration’s decision with legislation. The Democratic leadership in the Senate has refused to bring up the measure for a vote.

Cotton’s new ad comes amid the government shutdown. House Republicans, with his support, have tied a funding measure to repeal or delay of Obamacare. But over in the Senate, Pryor and the rest of the Democratic caucus have refused to go along.

Pryor’s campaign has blasted Cotton for what it called his “irresponsible cheerleading” for the shutdown.

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor takes direct aim at GOP challenger Rep. Tom Cotton

Freshman Republican’s entry into Senate race draws rebuke from veteran Democratic lawmaker

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CNN) — U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his new Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, are already aggressively going after each other 15 months before Arkansas voters go to the polls.

Announcing his candidacy August 6, Cotton repeatedly tied Pryor to President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the Natural State.

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U.S. Represenative Tom Cotton

“Mark’s been running for office for almost 25 years. Every time, he says Arkansas comes first,” Cotton told a crowd of supporters at a kickoff barbecue in his hometown of Dardanelle in the Arkansas River Valley west of Little Rock. “It’s not so. Over the last 4 ½ years, for Mark Pryor, Barack Obama comes first.”

“Do you agree with Barack Obama 90 percent of the time? If so, Mark Pryor is your man. If not, stand with me.”

But on the same day Cotton announced, Pryor went up with a new TV ad painting Cotton as an extreme right winger, rather than a mainstream Arkansas conservative.

“Tom Cotton should be running — not for higher office but from his own record,” a soothing female voice intones after ripping Cotton for his votes against the farm bill, reduced interest rates on student loans and the Violence Against Women Act.

Pryor’s ad also accuses Cotton of “blind ambition” — a not-so-subtle reference to the congressman’s decision to seek higher office just seven months after his election to the House.

Cotton alluded to his political ambitions in his announcement statement, noting that “some people say I’m a young man in a hurry.”

“Guess what? They’re right. We’ve got urgent problems, and I am in a hurry to solve them.”

A graduate of Harvard Law School who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a captain in the U.S. Army, Cotton, 36, 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.

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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.

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.

In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas 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.

In a sign of how contentious the Arkansas Senate race will be, outside groups have already dumped more than $1 million into ads.

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, Chickenfriedpolitics.com 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.

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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.

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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.

Arkansas Senate race awash in money 15 months out

Senator Mark Pryor and his expected challenger, Congressman Tom Cotton, are raising millions, while outside groups pour money with abandon into Arkansas.

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — More than 15 months before a single vote is cast for the U.S. Senate — indeed, before Arkansans even know for sure who will be running — outside groups from both sides of the political aisle have already dumped more than $1 million in ads onto TV viewers across the Natural State.

This spending wave is even more striking considering that Arkansas is the second-smallest Southern state, with fewer than 3 million people, and has only two major television markets.

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Senator Mark Pryor

Incumbent Senator Mark Pryor, considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the 2014 election cycle, raised $1.2 million in the second quarter of 2013, with nearly $4 million in the bank, according to figures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

However, Pryor has already had to go up on TV to counter a negative ad from New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which poured $350,000 into Arkansas earlier this year.

Bloomberg’s spots lambasted Pryor for his vote against President Obama’s call for expanded background checks for gun purchases. In his reponse, Pryor said he was defending the Second Amendment against a proposal that wouldn’t have prevented any of the recent mass shootings.

All told, Pryor spent $700,000 in the second quarter, or nearly 60 percent of what he managed to raise during that period.

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Representative Tom Cotton

Meanwhile, the man considered to Pryor’s likely GOP opponent, Representative Tom Cotton of Dardanelle, raised $611,000 during the second quarter and now has slightly more than $1 million in the bank.

Cotton, an Iraq war veteran in just his first term in the House, has been playing coy about whether he’ll give up his safe 4th District seat to challenge Pryor. He says he won’t make an annoucement on his plans until after the August congressional recess.

But national Democratic groups clearly think Cotton will run. In a pre-emptive strike, two outside liberal groups, Patriot Majority USA and the Senate Majority PAC, pummeled Cotton with $308,000 worth of TV attacks earlier this summer.

So far, Cotton has not felt the need to rebut those spots with ads of his own.

Another member of the state’s congressional delegation, Representative Steve Womack of Rogers, has said he, too, might run against Pryor.  In the second quarter, Womack raised $123,000 with $600,000 on hand, putting him well behind Cotton.

A GOP primary is considered unlikely. Womack, who has been in the House since 2011, is not expected to make the Senate race if Cotton runs.

Pryor, scion of one of Arkansas’ most prominent political families, barely faced opposition when he ran for a second term in 2008. But Republicans are smelling blood in the water this time around, largely because of the senator’s vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

Obama is deeply unpopular in Arkansas, losing the state by 23 points in 2012.

Two outside conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Action, have already spent more than $500,000 in negative ads against Pryor.

The Club for Growth was one of Cotton’s major financial backers in his successful House race in 2012.

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