- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Cotton defended his vote against the farm bill in a new television ad Thursday, pushing back on an issue where Democrats are trying to cast him as out of touch with rural Arkansas.

Cotton, the freshman congressman hoping to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, cites his objections to food-stamp funding included in the nearly $100 billion-a-year legislation he voted against in January. Cotton was the only member of Arkansas’ congressional delegation to vote against the bill. The 30-second spot was Cotton’s first ad directly addressing the issue.

“When President Obama hijacked the farm bill and turned it into a food stamp bill with billions more in spending, I voted no,” Cotton says in the ad, which is running statewide as part of a six-figure buy. “Career politicians love attaching bad ideas to good ones. Then the bad ideas become law, and you pay for it.”

Combining the food stamp money with the farm bill is a practice that predates the Obama administration by several decades. Republicans in the House tried to separate the two last year, and Cotton voted for both a stand-alone farm bill and a separate bill that would have cut the food stamp program by 5 percent. But GOP leaders eventually agreed to combine the bills in an attempt to get a farm bill passed, and the final version cut the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program by $800 million a year, or 1 percent.

Agriculture is Arkansas’ largest industry, and more than $8 billion in farm income is generated annually in the state, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Pryor, the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, has regularly criticized Cotton over his farm bill stance since the Republican announced his bid last year. Cotton’s ad comes on the heels of a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad that targets Cotton on the issue.

Pryor’s campaign called Cotton’s spot an attack on others who supported the farm bill, including members of the state’s congressional delegation.

“Congressman Cotton has no shortage of flatly false excuses for his reckless votes against Arkansas farmers, ranchers and rural families,” Pryor spokesman Erik Dorey said in a statement. “No doubt the same out-of-state billionaires who applauded Cotton’s vote against Arkansas are cheering his latest ad.”

The ad is the latest in an escalating blitz surrounding the tight race that could determine whether Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate. The two candidates and outside groups have spent nearly $25 million on the race, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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