Pryor seeks to keep attention on Cotton’s ‘faith’ comment with new ad

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) released a new TV ad Tuesday seeking to draw voters' attention to Republican Rep. Tom Cotton's suggestion that he doesn't live out his Christian faith in all areas of his life.

The ad shows footage of television reports about Cotton's comment. It continues with Pryor saying "I'm not ashamed to say that I believe in God and I believe in his word." The Pryor footage comes from an ad the senator released last year.

The new commercial highlights the difficult position Cotton, Pryor's opponent, may have put himself in with his remarks. Pryor — a Southern Baptist who has co-chaired the National Prayer Breakfast — is eager to talk about his faith in the campaign, as evidenced by the release of his ad on the subject last year. Cotton's accusatory remark has allowed him a natural way to do so.

Cotton said in an interview with KNWA last week that he thinks Pryor believes "faith is something that only happens at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings." He made the remark as he was praising the Supreme Court's ruling that some employers don't have to cover certain contraceptives for employees as required under the federal health-care law.

Pryor's campaign called on Cotton to apologize. The Republican didn't back down. He called Pryor a "man of faith" in a subsequent statement, but didn't say he was sorry.

Cotton released an ad of his own Tuesday defending his record on disaster relief.

Republicans see tethering Pryor to President Obama as a key to defeating him. Obama is deeply unpopular in Arkansas. Campaigning last week, Cotton tied the two together.

"The biggest single issue is Barack Obama and his agenda," said Cotton, according to the Baxter Bulletin. "A vote for Mark Pryor is a vote for Barack Obama. He's voted with Obama 90 percent of the time, he cast the decisive vote for Obamacare — he stands by him loyally."

In his remark about Pryor's faith, Cotton said Obama also believes that "faith is something that only happens at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings." But the attempt to group them together was largely lost in the back and forth about Pryor's religious beliefs.

In raising Pryor's faith in the campaign, Cotton allowed the conversation in the campaign to revolve around religion. Diverting attention away from Pryor's voting record on legislation favored by Obama and toward pretty much anything else plays into the Democrat's hands.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan | July 8