After months of speculation and with great fanfare, Rep. Tom Cotton (R) threw his hat in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor (D), whom he labeled a follower of President Obama and the Washington elite.
Cotton, Arkansas’ first-term Fourth District Congressman, made his announcement in his hometown to a crowd of hundreds of supporters in Dardanelle (Yell County) at a community barbecue dinner.
“Today, I’m announcing my candidacy to be your United States Senator,” Cotton said. A former military veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, he declared that his announcement was not a cause for celebration, but “a mission.”
“This is a mission briefing,” Cotton told the crowd. ”I’m asking you to join me on this mission.”
Cotton will prove a stout rival to Pryor, who has amassed nearly $4 million in contributions to defend his seat. Cotton will transfer more than $1 million in money raised for his Congressional seat to the Senate race.
Many political observers believe the Senate battle could eclipse the nearly $17 million spent in the 2010 race pitting Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) versus then-Cong. John Boozman (R).
“There’s absolutely no question that this is going to set a record for political spending in Arkansas. The ferocity we’ve seen in the last 24 hours is just a sign of things to come,” said Dr. Jay Barth, professor of political science at Hendrix College and polling partner with Talk Business Arkansas.
“The key battle is how the race between Cotton and Pryor is framed,” Barth said. “Is it framed as a referendum on Mark Pryor? Or is it framed as a choice between Mark Pryor versus a candidate that has cast some votes outside of the mainstream, some would say even by his party standards?”
Pryor and Arkansas Democrats have already begun their criticism of Cotton with a new TV ad and web site that highlights controversial votes Cotton has cast in Congress regarding disaster relief, women’s abuse, agricultural policy and student loans.
“People don’t know enough about Tom Cotton, I mean, he’s only been in Congress a few days,” Pryor’s campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a Politico interview on Monday (Aug. 5). “We felt that it is important let Arkansans see the real Tom Cotton. The ad will highlight what Tom Cotton has done in the short amount of time he has been in Washington.”
In response to the Pryor ad, Cotton’s political director Rep. John Burris said, “It’s a desperate attempt by the Senator to distract the voters from his agreeing with Barack Obama 90% of the time. He should spend his money instead explaining to the voters of Arkansas why he voted for Obamacare, amnesty for illegals, and the failed stimulus program.”
Republicans argue that Pryor is vulnerable due to his consistent votes with President Obama’s legislation, including health care reform and the economic stimulus that was urged under President George W. Bush (R).
Conservative and liberal groups have already run TV ads this year against Pryor for his connections to Obama and his vote on gun control legislation.
The race will be one of the most high-profile races in the country with potential control of the U.S. Senate at stake. Currently, Democrats hold a 52-46 advantage in the Senate. Two independent senators caucus with the Democrats.