After much speculation, today freshman Congressman Tom Cotton sent clear signals he plans to challenge U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in 2014. Consider today’s news Cotton’s “pre-announcement announcement” for higher office, just seven months after he first took the oath for the office he currently holds.

Pryor’s campaign wasted no time in throwing the first punch in what will likely be an epic race. This morning, Pryor’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, released the following statement in response to Cotton’s almost certain Senate run:

“In seven short months, Tom Cotton’s reckless and irresponsible voting record has alienated Arkansas farmers, seniors, students, women, parents and the business community by voting against such measures as the Farm Bill, Student loans, the Violence Against Women Act, and trying to cut Social Security and Medicare.

“Instead of putting Arkansas first, he has put his own political career ahead of the people of Arkansas and sided with Washington insiders and special interests. When the people of our state review Tom Cotton’s record, they won’t like what they see.”

In those two paragraphs you can see Pryor’s message against Tom Cotton he’ll likely push over the next year-and-a-half.

Through his first Senate run and his subsequent Senate tenure, Mark Pryor has consistently pushed the “Arkansas First” message. Look for Pryor to push the theme that Cotton doesn’t put Arkansas first. Cotton’s use of the Fourth District Congressional seat as a painfully obvious stepping-stone is one way Cotton will make it easier for Pryor to make this case.

Pryor’s campaign smartly avoided directly engaging Tom Cotton for quite some time since the freshman Congressman was not a formal candidate.

Now that Tom Cotton is an all-but-certain Senate candidate, all bets are off.

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Michael Cook is the moderator for his opinion blog, Cook's Outlook. He can be reached by e-mail at Michael@CooksOutlook.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mcookAR or on Facebook: facebook.com/CooksOutlook.