Ad War Heats Up In Arkansas Senate Race

LITTLE ROCK — The television ad war in Arkansas' Senate race heated up on Wednesday, with Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and a conservative group each spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new spots airing statewide this week.

Pryor's campaign unveiled two new 30-second spots targeting Republican rival and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, while Americans for Prosperity announced it would begin airing another spot criticizing Pryor for his health care vote. Pryor's campaign said it's spending at least six figures on the new spots, while Americans for Prosperity said it's spending $606,000.

All three ads are set to begin airing statewide Thursday.

Pryor's commercial features Arkansas voters criticizing Cotton's vote for a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for future beneficiaries. It focuses on Cotton's vote last year for the budget plan by Budget Committee Chairman and former vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, which would affect beneficiaries younger than 55.

"Retirement is just around the corner for us," a woman identified as Linda says in one of the ads. "That's why I was so concerned when I read Congressman Cotton voted to change Medicare into a voucher system."

Cotton's campaign called the ads a scare tactic.

"Tom Cotton opposes any changes to Medicare for current beneficiaries or those nearing eligibility. Instead, he supports reforms that will strengthen Medicare and keep the program solvent for future generations of Americans," David Ray, a spokesman for Cotton's campaign, said in a statement. "This is why we need new leadership in Washington."

The ad by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, criticizes Pryor for supporting the federal health care law. Republicans have made major gains in Arkansas by running against the law and President Barack Obama, who remains deeply unpopular in the state.

"Obamacare doesn't work. It just doesn't work," the ad says. "Tell Senator Pryor to stop thinking about politics and start thinking about people."

The spot features an unidentified woman speaking directly to the camera and is identical to one that Americans for Prosperity is airing targeting Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina.

Jeff Weaver, Pryor's campaign manager, called the spot one in a series of "misleading attacks" from outside conservative groups backing Cotton. Other groups that have been airing ads in the state include the Club for Growth.

The spots up the price tag on a Senate race that's expected to be one of the most expensive in the country. Republicans widely view Pryor — the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation — as the most vulnerable incumbent seeking re-election this year. The Center for Responsive Politics said last month that the two rivals and outside groups have already spent more than $5 million combined on the race.

Cotton, a freshman lawmaker representing south Arkansas' 4th Congressional District, announced in August he would challenge Pryor. He doesn't have any opponents in the May 20 primary. Pryor was first elected to the Senate in 2002 and won re-election without a Republican opponent in 2008.

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