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.) and Rep. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant Cotton2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration Meadows, Cotton introduce bill to prevent district judges from blocking federal policy changes MORE (R-Ark.) sparred over their loyalties in their first Senate debate, with Cotton repeatedly calling Pryor a "rubber stamp" for President Obama and Pryor saying Cotton's campaign is an "investment" for his "billionaire friends."


Pryor hit Cotton in his opening statement for attending a California fundraiser for Charles and David Koch, saying that the billionaires praised him on tape for voting against the farm bill.

"He's not listening to you. He's listening to them. That applause is still ringing in his ear and those dollar signs are still in his eyes," Pryor said. "He will do anything, say anything."

Cotton fired back, repeatedly saying that Pryor has "loyally supported the Obama agenda," pointing to the president's statement this month that his policies are on the ballot and accusing the incumbent of voting for "every single penny of new deficit spending."

Neither candidate broke new ground in the 90-minute debate, half of which was taken up by questions directed to the libertarian and Green Party nominee. At one point, one of the debate panelists grew frustrated and called out Cotton for using "talking points" rather than asking her question, something both candidates did throughout the debate, only to be reprimanded by the moderator.

Both painted the other as beholden to outside interests, attacking each other's character with charges that have been already been leveled in million-dollar ad campaigns.

Pryor slammed Cotton for voting against the farm bill, pointing out he was the only member of the state's congressional delegation to do so, and accused him of supporting "nation-building" abroad while voting "to cut schools, roads and hospitals here in Arkansas."

Cotton repeatedly attacked President Obama directly before shoehorning Pryor in as a loyal foot soldier.

"Mark Pryor always puts Barack Obama first, not Arkansas," he said, blaming Pryor for ObamaCare and saying he supported the president's "foreign policy of weakness, hesitation and indecision."

"If you look hard and tough your enemies will think you are hard and tough," Cotton said. "Barack Obama has made America look weak and soft in the world."

Cotton, an Iraq War veteran, also touted his own military experience he'd bring to the Senate, saying "I've dodged real bullets on the streets of Baghdad, so metaphorical bullets don't bother me," in reference to negative attacks. 

Pryor fired back, saying Cotton felt "entitled" to the job and calling his claim that Pryor had voted for all of the deficit spending Obama had pushed "a whopper."

"His approach is this my way or the highway, this dead-end politics," he said before turning to Cotton.

"You don't have the reputation, the ability or the desire to walk across the aisle and get things done in Washington," he said.

Pryor also fired back on ObamaCare, saying he wanted to make some changes to the law but that Cotton wanted to undo it entirely and return sick people to high-risk insurance pools.

"If we reestablish the high-risk pool we're just throwing sick people to the wolves," he said, noting that he's a cancer survivor.

Cotton defended his vote against the farm bill, saying he opposed it because of the food stamp provisions and that it was "a bad bill for Arkansas farmers."

Cotton has had a narrow lead over Pryor in most recent public polling, and Republicans are feeling increasingly confident they'll defeat the senator this fall.