LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor on Wednesday defended his campaign's TV ad invoking the Ebola outbreak to criticize his Republican challenger, saying it addresses a serious issue and he doesn't view it as a scare tactic.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, the freshman congressman hoping to unseat him, criticized the ad and accused the two-term lawmaker from Arkansas of trying to paint him as "pro-Ebola."
The two tangled over the ad, which criticizes Cotton for voting against a measure reauthorizing pandemic response programs. The 30-second spot, which began airing over the weekend, opens with TV news clips about the Ebola outbreak. More than 1,400 people have died from the disease in West Africa, but health officials say an outbreak in the U.S. is unlikely.
Pryor said he believed Cotton's vote was fair game, and said he believed it demonstrated the consequences of votes.
"When I see the ad, I don't think of it as scary or adding to the hysteria," Pryor said at a news conference at his campaign headquarters. "Because really what you're talking about is newscasts. It's the lead story, you have people on the evening news reading about new developments when it comes to this pandemic."
Cotton ridiculed the spot.
"You would think he would be proud of running on his own record. But, no, he's decided 10 weeks out from his last election to attack me for being pro-Ebola," Cotton said. "This ad obviously smacks of desperation."
The spot was the latest in an increasingly expensive and bitter ad battle between the two campaigns. The candidates and outside groups have combined spent nearly $20 million on the race, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to win a majority in the Senate, and Republicans view the Arkansas race as crucial to that bid.
Cotton and his campaign have said the ad is misleading because it doesn't note Cotton's vote for a later version of the bill. Cotton said he voted against the initial version because of a provision that he said would have allowed the mandatory assignment of Arkansas health officials to outbreak zones against their wishes. Cotton said he voted for the legislation after that language was amended.
"I voted for the exact same bill Mark Pryor voted for," Cotton said.
Pryor earlier Wednesday said citing the vote against the measure was a fair criticism.
"He had no idea that months and months later, he might get a second bite at this apple," Pryor said.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo