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Pryor says Cotton’s three Republican colleagues were reasonable in supporting the bill, which would help Arkansas farmers.

Cotton, in an interview, said he wants to tighten eligibility and enforcement rules for food stamps. Congress eventually must resolve its differences to avoid sharp increase in diary prices, he said.

“I don’t think Arkansans should have to pay $8 for a gallon of milk because Washington politicians can’t get their act together,” Cotton said.

It’s the kind of snappy sound bite that annoys Democrats. Cotton’s fellow Arkansas Republicans, they say, were seeking just such a bipartisan accord by backing the farm bill that Cotton opposed.

Cotton grew up on an Arkansas cattle farm and earned bachelor’s and law degrees at Harvard University. He joined the Army, saw combat in Iraq as a platoon leader and also served in Afghanistan.

Tall, slim and ramrod straight, he is a bit stiffer in public than Pryor. He accepts the tea party label with a caveat.

“I want to be the candidate of the tea party,” Cotton said. He added: “I want to be the candidate of the establishment.”

Brock, the TV host, said Cotton appears thus far to being uniting the state’s fractious GOP. But having run only one fairly easy House campaign, Brock said, Cotton, hasn’t endured the statewide races that Pryor has.

Pryor might be able to fend off Cotton because of his political skills “and the good feelings about the Pryor family” in Arkansas, said Rex Nelson, a longtime Arkansas politics reporter before joining Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee’s staff.

However, Nelson said, “as long as Barack Obama is in the White House, it’s going to be hard for anyone in Arkansas with a “D” next to his name.”