- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2014

GOP Rep. Tom Cotton said Monday that Sen. Mark Pryor isn’t “tough enough” to stand up to President Obama, using a debate to repeatedly link the incumbent Democrat to the unpopular president.

He accused Mr. Pryor of voting to defend Obamacare, backing the White House’s agenda on the economy and its plans for combatting the resurgence of terrorists in Iraq.

“Whenever Barack Obama says he needs Senator Pryor’s vote, then he gets Senator Pryor’s vote,” Mr. Cotton said during the 90-minute debate at the University of Central Arkansas. “Leadership requires toughness, requires courage. Senator Pryor simply isn’t tough enough to stand up to Barack Obama and put Arkansas first.”

Taking a page from other Senate challengers in red states, Mr. Cotton is banking that dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama and his policies will help propel him to victory in Arkansas and give the GOP a pickup as they try to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. Mr. Cotton has a slight edge in recent public polling in a race awash with negative advertising and more than $27 million in spending by outside groups.

Mr. Pryor fired back, saying that Mr. Cotton is trying to hide his own record under a barrage of attacks on Mr. Obama.

“You see a pattern? Yes,” he said. “Clearly, Congressman Cotton is running against one man, but I’m running for three million Arkansans. That’s what this race is all about and that’s the difference in this race.”

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In the heavily agricultural state, Mr. Pryor accused Mr. Cotton of being beholden to billionaire donors and said the freshman congressman’s vote against the farm bill this year was a vote against the interests of farmers in the state.

Mr. Pryor said that while he supports some changes to Obamacare, he doesn’t want to go back to the days before it was passed in 2010 when health insurance companies could, for example, deny coverage for people who have pre-existing conditions.

He pointed to his own experience needing health care, and attacked Mr. Cotton’s support for a “high-risk pool” to help those who otherwise can’t find coverage.

“Let me tell you something, congressman: I’m a cancer survivor,” said Mr. Pryor. “I’ve lived this. I’ve been in [a] high-risk pool. It is not a good place to be.”

Arkansas has been among the top states in the country in terms of trimming its uninsured rate, and the state pioneered a “private option” to expand Medicaid by leveraging federal dollars under Obamacare to buy regular health insurance for its expansion population instead of dumping them into the government health program.

As for Mr. Obama’s terror tack, Mr. Pryor said he backed arming the moderate Syrian opposition as part of the Obama administration’s long-term solution to combat the Islamic State terrorist group.

Mr. Cotton, a combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Mr. Obama should have left open the possibility of using ground troops.

The only member of the Arkansas congressional delegation to vote against the final version of the farm bill, Mr. Cotton called the measure a “bad deal” for Arkansas farmers and taxpayers. He said he supported provisions intended to help farmers, but opposed the billions of dollars the farm bill sent to the food stamp program.

Libertarian Nathan LaFrance and Green Party candidate Mark Swaney also participated in the debate Monday. Mr. Pryor and Mr. Cotton are scheduled to debate one-on-one Tuesday evening in Fayetteville.

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