NEWPORT, Ark. — Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sought to explain recent comments that his GOP challenger has a "sense of entitlement" — remarks Republicans have construed as his attacking Rep. Tom CottonTom CottonArk., Texas senators put cheese dip vs. queso to the test Overnight Defense: Debate over Mattis heats up | White House releases military force rules Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules MORE's (R-Ark.) military service.
Pryor pointed out that he'd thanked Cotton for serving in the Army in the original context of the interview that aired on MSNBC, and argued it was clear that he was knocking the freshman congressman's lack of accomplishments in the House, not in the military.
"But the point remains that he's been in the House now for a little over a year, he hadn't passed any legislation, there's no one thing he's done for Arkansas. Tell me one accomplishment he's had," he continued. "And now he's telling people he wants to be a United States senator."
"Okay, fine, you want to be a senator, but what do you have to show for your time in the House? And it's a big goose egg," Pryor went on. "So that was really the context of it. And when you saw the question and the longer answer, not when they sort of chopped it and gave you one little snippet but when they see the whole thing, I think it's pretty self-explanatory."
Pryor told MSNBC in early March that he respected Cotton's tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and thanked him for it — but said didn't see it as a qualification by itself for running for the Senate.
"In the Senate we have all kinds of different people, all kinds of different folks who come from different backgrounds. And I think that's part of this sense of entitlement, that he gives off, that almost is like, 'I served my country, therefore let me into the Senate.' That's not how it works in Arkansas," Pryor said in that earlier interview after thanking Cotton for his service.
Cotton and his allies have been hammering Pryor for the comment ever since. The Republican released an ad earlier this week featuring his drill sergeant that jokes about Pryor's comments.
Pryor did tell The Hill on Friday that he could have phrased things better in that interview.
"A lot of times I look back and say that I could say something better or have handled something better. Yeah, I probably could have been clearer in that," he said. "But you know, it's part of life, we all talk and say things. But I think in the context of the way the question was asked and what I answered, I thought it was fine."
Pryor is a top Republican target in the GOP-leaning state, and Cotton likely needs to defeat him for Republicans to win back control of the Senate.
The centrist two-term Democrat has led Cotton in most recent polling, though both sides say they expect a close race through Election Day.