Cotton ties Pryor to Obama in Ark. sprint

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. -- Rep. Tom Cotton (R) is painting Sen. Mark Pryor (D) as a two-faced liberal in their Arkansas Senate battle, arguing he votes overwhelmingly with President Obama while pretending to be a centrist.

Cotton spent Saturday sprinting from one Republican gathering to another, tying Pryor to the unpopular president and his signature law, ObamaCare, as party loyalists cheered him on.

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"I can't find anyone who agrees with Barack Obama 95 percent of the time. Except, unfortunately, our United States senator, Mark Pryor," Cotton said to laughs at a Saturday morning gathering of a few dozen Republican candidates and organizers in Malvern, in central Arkansas.

"When the chips are down he's going to vote for Obama," he said later in Hot Springs.

The hard-charging freshman, speaking rapidly and punctuating his speeches with quick hand jabs, then slammed ObamaCare, a law he called "corrupt to its rotten core" throughout the day.

"We should get him an 'Obama comes first sign,'" he joked to a supporter in Hot Springs who was griping about Pryor's "Arkansas comes first" slogan and yard signs.

Despite Obama's deep unpopularity in the conservative state, Pryor, a well-known fourth-generation office-holder, won't be easy to beat. Recent polls have found him leading despite millions spent by outside groups.

Part of that may be due to Pryor's attacks on Cotton — he's painted the freshman congressman as an ideologue and a careerist more focused on moving up than getting things accomplished.

Even in Republican crowds, Cotton's vote against the Farm Bill in the agriculture-heavy state was brought up often.

"Explain your Farm Bill vote. We keep getting questions about that," one GOP activist asked in Hot Springs.

Cotton, the only one of Arkansas's five GOP legislators to vote against the bill, replied that Democrats had called it a Farm Bill to "mislead the voters" and should have been called the "Food Stamp Bill."

Cotton joked about his recent wedding, repeating that "it's been 42 days of perfect blissful marriage" throughout the day.

In Mountain Home, a small northern Arkansas town buried deep in the Ozark Mountains near Missouri's border, he expanded on his relationship. The moment his then-girlfriend decided he was patient enough to for her to marry him, he said, was when he didn't get furious when her dog peed on his couch the first time she brought him over.

"Of course I'm patient. I have to deal with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid every day at work," he joked.

He used the anecdote to push back on Pryor's attacks that he's seeking to move up the ladder in Congress too fast. Pryor's first campaign ad attacked Cotton for "blind ambition," and he's kept up the drumbeat on Cotton's motives ever since. At just 36, Cotton would be the youngest senator if he wins.

"He says that I'm a young man in a hurry. That's true, I am, because someone ought to be in a hurry to clean up the mess that he and Barack Obama made," he said in Mountain Home.

He also sought to frame his race not just as a battle for the Senate seat but as a chance for the GOP to seize control of the state. After more than a century of Democratic dominance in Arkansas, Republicans have made huge gains the last few years. Pryor is the only Democrat left in the state's congressional delegation -- a swift reversal from before the 2010 elections when his party had 5 of six seats. Republicans have also seized control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

"We have become this state's majority party and this fall we are going to cement our majority status for the next generation," he said in Mountain Home.