Arkansas Senate rivals battle over faith
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.) is demanding an apology from Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor Dems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination FCC moves forward with rule aimed at protecting US communications networks MORE (R-Ark.) for questioning his faith, putting religion at the center of a Senate race that both parties are desperate to win.

Cotton, who is running to oust Pryor and take his seat for Republicans, told KNWA that the Democratic senator thinks "faith is something that only happens at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings." 

Cotton was discussing the Supreme Court's Monday ruling that so-called closely held corporations can't be required to cover contraception in their insurance plans if they have a religious objection, a ruling that Pryor criticized.

"Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge rules against Trump administration in teen pregnancy prevention case Parkland student rips Obama for essay on shooting survivors Obama pens Time 100 entry for Parkland survivors MORE and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings. That's when we worship, but faith is what we live every single day and the government shouldn't infringe on the rights of religious liberty," Cotton said. "So I'm pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling but it's just another example of why ObamaCare is bad for Arkansas."

Pryor's campaign jumped on the comment, posting a clip of the remark online and demanding an apology.

"I'm disappointed in Congressman Cotton’s deeply personal attack on me," Pryor said in a statement from his campaign. "He and I may disagree on issues, but for him to question my faith is out of bounds. From a young age I have never shied away from talking about the importance of God in my life, and it’s my Christian faith that gives me comfort and guidance to be a steady voice for Arkansas in the Senate."

Cotton responded by saying he respects Pryor's faith.

"Senator Pryor is a man of faith, which I respect," he said in a statement to The Hill. "That's why it's so disappointing that Senator Pryor still defends Obamacare even after the Supreme Court said it violated freedom of religion. Senator Pryor supports taxpayer funding for abortion and would force Christians to pay for abortions despite their deeply held religious beliefs. That's a real attack on faith."

This isn't the first time that Republicans have raised questions about Pryor's faith this campaign.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Daypsring did so earlier this cycle, arguing Pryor had made contradictory statements about the role of faith in politics. Cotton's campaign denounced that attack, calling it "bizarre and offensive."

Pryor's Christianity has been a big part of his campaigns — one of his first ads featured him talking about the Bible — and he's been a four-time co-chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast.

Polls have found a close race in Arkansas, a pivotal state in the fight for Senate control.

This post was updated at 12:20 p.m.