Arkansas Senate rivals Pryor and Cotton tangle over missed votes and debate format



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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor on Tuesday criticized his re-election rival, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, for missing votes this week in the U.S. House, while Cotton accused Pryor of ducking debate on foreign policy issues in their nationally watched race.

Pryor noted that Cotton missed votes Monday, the same day his campaign had a fundraiser scheduled in Houston.

The only recorded vote that day in the House was on legislation establishing the Law School Clinic Certification Program of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which passed on a 327-22 vote. Cotton was among 82 House members to miss it. He also missed a dozen voice votes, meaning there's not a record of who voted, including on a measure he co-sponsored to allow banks to offer prizes for customers who make a deposit in their savings account.

"He put his own agenda ahead of the people of Arkansas' agenda," Pryor said in a conference call with reporters.

Cotton's campaign declined to say where Cotton was during the votes but defended the freshman congressman, saying he had a 99 percent voting attendance record. Cotton spokesman David Ray said House leaders had changed the previously announced voting schedule with only a few days' notice.

The two also continued sparring Tuesday over debate format, with Cotton accusing Pryor of refusing to debate foreign policy. The two have agreed to a statewide televised debate on Oct. 14 that will focus on domestic issues. Cotton said foreign policy should be debated, especially as Congress is considering the president's plan to fight Islamic State forces in the Middle East.

"Thus, I'm surprised and disappointed that Senator Pryor refuses to debate these issues, especially when President Obama has asked us to cast the most consequential vote any Congress can take," Cotton said in a statement released by his campaign.

Pryor said foreign policy could be a topic at a debate next month being hosted by the Arkansas Educational Television Network. Pryor has agreed to participate, but Cotton hasn't committed. Ray said Cotton has not ruled out that debate and is awaiting final details from the network, such as who will be on the panel asking questions of the candidates.

The race for Pryor's seat, which Republicans say is key to winning a majority in the Senate, is one of the most closely watched in the country. The candidates and outside groups have spent more than $23.7 million on the race, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.


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