The candidates in Arkansas' heated Senate race have stuck to familiar themes in their first debate, with Senator Mark Pryor accusing Republican Representative Tom Cotton of being beholden to billionaire donors and Cotton casting Pryor as the president's closest ally in Arkansas.
Pryor accused Cotton of putting his ambition before the state, saying outside groups were investing in his bid hoping for a payoff. The race is one of the most expensive in the country and is crucial to Republicans' efforts to win a majority in the Senate.
Cotton, a freshman lawmaker representing south Arkansas, invoked the president throughout the 90-minute debate and cited the president's recent remarks that his policies were on the ballot even if he was not in this midterm election. The president lost Arkansas in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and remains deeply unpopular in the state.
Pryor, a two-term Democrat, accused Cotton of putting his ambition ahead of the state and voting more for conservative outside groups that have backed his bid. This debate was the only one where the two agreed to include foreign policy, an area where Republicans believe Cotton has an edge as an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cotton said he doesn't believe troops should be ruled out as an option in battling the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
Pryor defended his vote for the federal health care overhaul and said that before the law many Arkansans were one medical emergency away from bankruptcy. Pryor, in turn, accused Cotton of being more interested in funding for nation building abroad than domestic needs such as schools and roads.