WASHINGTON — Democrats on Thursday launched a media campaign in Arkansas against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is seen as the most likely Republican to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in 2014.
Cotton, a freshman lawmaker from Dardanelle, is considering a run for Senate but is not expected to announce a decision until later this year. Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans are wasting no time in preparing for the anticipated matchup.
Patriot Majority USA and Senate Majority PAC, which support the election of Democrats to the U.S. Senate, announced that they are spending $270,000 on a television advertising campaign that will run in Fort Smith, Little Rock and on cable in southern Arkansas over the next two weeks.
The advertisement, which can also be viewed on YouTube, claims that Cotton is putting his national ambitions ahead of Arkansans.
“While Cotton has been a media darling, appearing on numerous national television shows, he has consistently voted against Arkansans, including voting for a plan that would essentially end Medicare,” the groups said in a press release.
Cotton supports the 2014 budget plan proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that would replace Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage with a premium-support voucher and raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67.
Caroline Rabbitt, a spokeswoman for Cotton, discounted the advertisement, saying the freshman congressman is an “outspoken fighter for Arkansas” particularly in his opposition to health care reform.
Cotton, she said, “hasn’t encountered many Arkansans who want their elected officials to follow instead of lead, but I guess some Democrats have low expectations of their elected officials, who aren’t capable of much more than sitting on the back bench.”
The advertising blitz comes as the Senate Conservatives Fund released results from a poll it sponsored that found Pryor and Cotton in a “dead heat” among likely Arkansas voters. Pryor was backed by 41 percent and Cotton 40 percent with 19 percent undecided, according to the poll of 600 that had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
“Mark Pryor’s liberal voting record and his close association with President Obama have all but ruined his re-election chances,” said SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins.
Hoskins said that the $400,000 spent by Senate Conservatives Action this year has “driven Mark Pryor’s numbers into the ground and forced ultra-liberal groups to come to his rescue.”
Candice Martin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said the poll results actually show Pryor gaining ground. The same conservative group, she said, released a poll in March that had Pryor supported by 36 percent.
“Now Mark Pryor is in the lead with 41 percent, which goes to show the people of Arkansas want someone who represents their interest and not special interests,” Martin said.
Arkansas Democrats also issued a statement Thursday criticizing Cotton for “flipflopping” on disaster relief aid, saying he was heralding federal aid for disaster relief from storm damage in his district six months after having voted against funding disaster assistance needed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“Congressman Cotton doesn’t want to pay for anything, but he wants to reap the benefits of federal funding when it’s convenient for him. That’s not how Arkansas works,” Martin said in the release.
Rabbitt said Cotton was not “heralding” the disaster relief but simply announcing that several counties received disaster designation that allows them to apply for relief funds from ongoing, appropriated programs. Cotton, she said, stands by his vote against the Sandy relief bill because it spent billions on non-emergency and wasteful programs.
The 30-second television ad from Democrats opens with flashes of Cotton appearing on CNN, Fox News Sunday and MSNBC as an unseen narrator delivers the following message:
“Tom Cotton, just elected and already seeking the national limelight. Behind the glitz, Congressman Cotton forgot about us. Supporting a plan the Wall Street Journal said essentially ends Medicare — costing some seniors $6,000 more a year while voting Congress taxpayer-funded health care for life. Congressman Cotton: out for himself, not us.”