Rep. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) Senate campaign on Wednesday denounced a “bizarre and offensive” attack on Sen. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorBottom line Everybody wants Joe Manchin Cotton glides to reelection in Arkansas MORE’s faith by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who is up for reelection, on Wednesday began airing an ad in which he says the Bible “is my compass, my North Star. It gives me comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas.”
NRSC communications director Brad Dayspring emailed reporters to say that statement contradicts one Pryor made last year, when he said the Bible “is really not a rulebook for political issues” and that “everyone can see it differently.”
“So is the Bible Mark Pryor’s compass, providing the ‘comfort and guidance to do what’s best for Arkansas?’ Or is it really not a good rule book for political issues and decisions made in the Senate? Guess it depends on which Mark Pryor that you ask,” Dayspring said.
Cotton’s campaign ripped Dayspring’s remarks.
“That is an incredibly bizarre and offensive email from the NRSC’s press secretary. We should all agree that America is better off when all our public officials in both parties have the humility to seek guidance from God,” Cotton campaign spokesman David Ray told The Hill.
It’s an unusual break between Cotton and the NRSC, which has provided strong backing for his campaign while regularly attacking Pryor.
Pryor’s campaign seized on the controversy to strike at Cotton.
“It’s frankly despicable that Congressman Cotton’s Washington allies are manipulating quotes to question the sincerity of Mark’s religious beliefs,” Pryor campaign manager Jeff Weaver said. “Tom Cotton needs to step up and denounce these shameful attacks on Mark Pryor’s faith.”
Pryor is widely considered the most vulnerable Democratic senator facing reelection in 2014. Arkansas gave President Obama just 37 percent of its vote in 2012 and has trended sharply away from Democrats in the last decade.
Polling indicates the race between Cotton and Pryor will be tight.
Cotton has gotten support from both establishment Republican and Tea Party groups, including Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) political action committee, which plans to launch a slew of ads backing him in the coming days.
Pryor’s new ad appears aimed at winning over the large swath of Christian voters in Arkansas.
He’s long talked about his faith, mentioning it in ads in 2002 and 2008. Pryor is also one of a handful of Senate Democrats who oppose gay marriage.
In a follow-up exchange with The Hill before the statement from Cotton’s campaign, Dayspring said the “compass” ad is part of a pattern for Pryor.
“In the ad, Mark Pryor says the Bible guides him to make legislative and political decisions, but in the paper, Mark Pryor says that the Bible shouldn’t be used as a rulebook for political issues. Anyone who followed Pryor’s 2002 campaign knows that he certainly didn’t shy away from using his religion both in ads and on the trail, and that seems to be happening yet again.”
Dayspring is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year he drew criticism from Democrats for calling Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) an “empty dress.”
Lundergan Grimes is seeking the Democratic nomination in Kentucky to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in 2014.
Dayspring also abruptly left a position with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in 2012 after clashing with other staffers and reporters.
— This story was first posted at 1:54 p.m. and was updated at 3:54 p.m. and 7:51 p.m.