U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who squared off in their only one-on-one U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, stayed to familiar themes of tying each other to unpopular political allies.
The first and only live televised debate took place at the University of Arkansas’ Global Campus in Fayetteville in front of more than 300 “invited guests” and hosted by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Agreed upon topics were education, economic development and jobs, and infrastructure as the debate centered solely on broad domestic issues.
Pryor was able to use almost each response and rebuttal to tag Cotton as an ally for “out-of-state billionaires.” Pryor said the billionaires “have bought” a candidate who will cut important social programs like Medicare, Social Security and food stamps in order to deliver tax cuts to the billionaires.
“I listen to you and he listens to the billionaires,” Pryor said of Cotton.
Likewise, Cotton used almost each response and rebuttal to tag Pryor as being in lockstep with President Barack Obama, often beginning an answer with “Mark Pryor and Barack Obama … .” Cotton said the policies of President Obama are on the Arkansas ballot – a reference to the recent comments made by the president.
“A vote for Mark Pryor is a vote for Barack Obama,” Cotton said, adding that Pryor is a “rubber stamp for Barack Obama’s weakness” in foreign affairs.
As to the issues, support and solvency for social programs, jobs and healthcare were the dominant topics.
Responding to a question about how to “define” the middle class, Pryor said he wants to grow the economy by growing the middle class, but he said Cotton believes he can build up the economy by supporting billionaires.
Cotton responded by saying Obamacare and other regulatory policies supported by Obama and Pryor have hurt the middle class and small businesses.
“The way we stop it (loss of jobs in Arkansas) is to get government out of the private sector,” Cotton said.
In his rebuttal statement and in answer to the original question about defining the middle class, Pryor said a middle class income would top out around $200,000. That amount, which is considerably more than the eventually median Arkansas income of just over $40,000, was a hot topic on social media following the debate.
Pryor said that Congress and state leaders must change tax and other policies to incentivize returning manufacturing jobs to the U.S.
“All the economists say the time is now,” Pryor said of pursuing manufacturing jobs.
Cotton stuck to his message that shrinking the size of government is the best way to help the middle class. He also zinged Pryor on the middle class number.
“Pryor must be the one hanging out with out of state billionaires if he thinks $200,000 is the middle class,” Cotton said.
Pryor said Wal-Mart employees who recently lost their insurance now have an option because Arkansas Republicans and Democrats worked to create the Private Option system. Pryor said Obamacare is not perfect and he would like to make changes to the law but would not want “to go back to those days” when insurance companies were in charge of the insurance system.
Cotton said “failures” of Obamacare are “intended consequences” to result in “government healthcare.” For the Arkansans who are losing their insurance, Cotton told the crowd that “Mark Pyor and Barack Obama took that (insurance) away from them.”
Pryor, who mentioned his own battle with cancer and fighting insurance companies to pay for treatment, responded by noting that Cotton does not have a solution for a workable healthcare solution. For Arkansans in a “high-risk pool,” Pryor said Cotton’s plans are “like throwing sick people to the wolves.”
In closing, Cotton said again that President Obama’s policies are on the ballot in Arkansas and if voters are “satisfied with the status quo, then I’m not your guy.”
Following numerous responses in which Cotton tied Pryor to Obama, Pryor said to the audience that Cotton is “running against one man, but I’m running for three million Arkansans.”
The Senate fight is drawn along national lines, with the Pryor-Cotton matchup one of a handful of U.S. Senate races closely watched among the top political races that could reshape control of the U.S. Senate and the nation’s capitol.
The Pryor-Cotton match has been close through the summer in various polls, but in recent weeks the polling indicates a shift favorable to Cotton. Republicans have noted the trend lines in aggregate public polling sites, such as ones collected by Real Clear Politics.
Democrats have countered that efforts to activate non-traditional mid-term election voters and newly registered voters will boost their Election Day totals and that those numbers are not reflected in many of the publicly-released polls.
Internal polling by both sides indicate their candidate’s advantages.
After the debate, Cotton spokesman David Ray said he thought Pryor’s comments defining the middle class as those making up to $200,000 was the “most memorable exchange of the night.”
“$200,000 a year may be considered ‘middle-class’ in places like Georgetown or Chevy Chase, but it’s certainly not middle-class in places like Jonesboro or Rison,” said Cotton spokesman David Ray. “Senator Pryor proved tonight he is simply out-of-touch and doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.”
The Pryor campaign declared victory in a post-debate press release saying, “For all of his chest-thumping and bluster over debates, Cotton falls flat two nights in a row,” in reference to Monday’s AETN debate and Tuesday’s Fayetteville Chamber debate.
Erik Dorey, deputy campaign manager for the Pryor campaign, said the hard-fought race – which has been officially underway for 15 months – remains close, but he trusted voters to see who is controlling Cotton.
“It is anyone’s game at this point. … When Mark gets out around the state and talks to Arkansans, the reaction is universally heartwarming,” Dorey said, adding that “Arkansans aren’t entirely as clueless as Tom Cotton thinks they are.”