Last week’s travels with U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and his new GOP challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, took us on a whirlwind series of trips across the state.
This week, both men ramped up their travels with Pryor touring northwest Arkansas and Cotton taking a Congressional trip to Israel. Cotton announced his entry in the Senate race in Dardanelle on Tuesday night (Aug. 6) and spent the next two days traveling by car to Fayetteville, Springdale, Mountain Home, Jonesboro, Hot Springs, Hot Springs Village and Texarkana. He even made a last-minute stop at the Faulkner County Tea Party committee meeting in Conway.
Cotton has stirred plenty of controversy during his short 8 months in office in the U.S. House of Representatives. He’s had high-profile national public appearances and has been part of an ultra-conservative faction of the Republican caucus that has taken principled stands opposing the Farm Bill, student loan changes, and disaster relief funding – all votes that Pryor and Democrats will use repeatedly in the campaign.
For a guy who has made waves and forced reforms as a freshman in the House, the question for Tom Cotton becomes: why not stay put and continue to push for greater changes or a leadership role in the GOP-controlled House while making a safe run for re-election?
His answer centers around the core reason he’s entered politics: President Obama.
“The Senate has been one of his staunchest allies. I think that while I’ve made an impact for the people of Arkansas in the House, I can have a bigger impact on the people of Arkansas in the Senate by helping that institution stand up to an agenda that I don’t think is an agenda shared by the people of Arkansas,” Cotton says.
Republicans need to pick up 6 seats in the U.S. Senate to gain control of the upper chamber. Arkansas is one of four states with Democratic incumbents who are perceived as potentially vulnerable. The other three states are Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina.
Pryor, who considers himself at the “center of the Senate,” has been tied to his support of several of President Obama’s big agenda items: the Dodd-Frank financial bill, the stimulus program, and of course health care reform. He’s also taken independent stands on other issues, including efforts to address balancing the budget and gun control.
In the past week, Pryor has criss-crossed Arkansas attending events in his official Senate capacity in Batesville, Ash Flat, Mammoth Springs, Melbourne, Little Rock, Lonoke, Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville and Fort Smith. It’s part of his recess work and Pryor says he would much rather be meeting with constituents than blocking off time for fundraising calls.
“Fundraising is probably the least favorite part of the job. My favorite part is getting out in the state and talking to people,” Pryor said.
He knows his voting record will be a major focus of firepower from Cotton and the myriad national conservative groups that have already shown they’re willing to spend millions in Arkansas to oust him. But he also knows that Cotton’s perceived “extremism” and the freshman Congressman’s voting record will allow him to counterpunch.
“I think certainly voting records are on limits. I think if we’ll stick to the voting records and stick to the facts, I think that’s what the people of Arkansas deserve to have in this campaign. I’m afraid what you’re going to see though is a lot of outside money,” Pryor said.
To counter the influence of money, you just have to “trust people” Pryor explains.
“You have to trust people in this state that they’re smart enough to figure it out, and they are. We’ve seen it over and over and over, election after election. I look forward to this race. I look forward to talking about my record and what I’ve been able to accomplish, to tell people why I want another six years.”
While Pryor’s recess work is taking him to various corners of the state, Cotton is criss-crossing the globe. A week after announcing his Senate bid, he took a pre-planned official visit to Israel as part of his work on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The trip is open to freshman members of both parties and is sponsored by the American Israel Educational Foundation Seminar in Israel.
“The trip is paid for by the foundation and all appropriate paperwork has been approved by the ethics committee,” said Cotton spokesperson Caroline Rabbitt. “The purpose of the trip is to attend seminars, meetings, and briefings. The seminars are considered among the most substantive, rigorous, and valuable opportunities for members of Congress to gain a firsthand understanding of some of America’s most pressing foreign policy challenges. They offer members the chance to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials and hear from speakers representing diverse views across the political spectrum.”
Rabbitt also pointed out that Cotton has two Israeli-owned companies in his Congressional district, Delek Holdings in El Dorado and Spectra Technologies of East Camden.
WHAT YOU MAY NOT KNOW
The opportunity to spend time on the road with both Senate candidates afforded me a chance to delve into their personal lives a little bit more. That will be the subject of a forthcoming Talk Business Arkansas magazine article in early September.
A couple of takeaways to share for immediate consumption:
• Cotton is an avid runner and has completed 11 marathons to date.
• For relaxation, he’s an avid sports fan who enjoys football and baseball.
• His favorite pro teams include the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots and the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox.
• Pryor is looking forward to upcoming hunting seasons, in particular because it is an activity he enjoys with his son.
• His daughter, the younger of his two children, will start college this fall.
• You will no doubt catch Pryor at Razorback football games this year. As a UA graduate, he’s a diehard fan.