Middle class takes center stage in Arkansas debate
© 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.) said in Tuesday night's debate that middle-class families make up to $200,000 a year, remarks that drew a strong rebuke from 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.).

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"Under the law there's a lot of different definitions of middle-class, but when I think of the middle class I think of most of Arkansas, and maybe that goes up to $150,000, $200,000, there's different ways to judge it," Pryor said when asked how he defined the middle class.

"I'd say probably up to $200,000, there's different definitions but that's my working definition," he said a minute later when asked to give a precise number.

Cotton initially didn't give an exact figure. But when Pryor repeated the $200,000 figure as the top edge of the middle class, he jumped into attack mode.

"Sen. Pryor must be the one who's hanging out with out-of-state billionaires if he thinks $200,000 in Arkansas is the middle class," he said, returning fire on Pryor's attacks about him fundraising with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who are heavily active in national politics, in California.

"When I think about a typical household in Arkansas it makes $40,000 a year. Unfortunately, that's down by almost 5 percent over the last six years because of the Obama-Pryor economy."

The median household income in blue-collar Arkansas was $40,531 between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census. A household income of $200,000 would put a family in the top 2 percent of households in Arkansas, according to The New York Times.

Cotton returned to an attack on Pryor's middle-class definition later in the debate.

"Sen. Pryor likes to talk about the middle class and I guess that's his $200,000 a year income earner who he thinks is middle-class here in Arkansas," he said.

The comments could become attack fodder for Cotton as he looks to close the door on Pryor. The congressman has held a narrow lead in most recent polling of the race, and Republicans are more confident than Democrats that they'll win the battle, one of a handful that could determine Senate control.

The two candidates have been battling over who can best help working families in one of the nation's poorer states.

Besides fighting over the definition of middle class, Cotton and Pryor returned to familiar themes in their second debate in as many days.

Pryor slammed Cotton for attending the Kochs's California retreat and the applause he received for voting against the farm bill and hit him on Medicare and Social Security.

"I listen to you, and he listens to the billionaires. That's what I mean when I say Arkansas comes first," Pryor said.

"He makes big cuts to things that are important to Arkansas," Pryor said later before calling Cotton a lapdog for his billionaire donors. "They're going to get a big return on their investment."

Cotton fired back, tying Pryor to President Obama on repeated occasions and ripping into ObamaCare and the president's handling of the economy and foreign policy.

"Mark Pryor says he votes in a bipartisan way," Cotton said. "Time and time again he's put Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' US-Iran next moves — Déjà vu of Obama administration mistakes? Cost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion MORE over the interests in Arkansas."