LITTLE ROCK â€” Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican challenger Tom Cotton targeted each other's records on border security Thursday in competing television ads, signaling the importance of the immigration issue in a race that could help determine which party controls the chamber.
Pryor's campaign announced a new ad defending the two-term lawmaker's record on immigration and border security. The campaign said it spent six figures to begin airing the ad statewide Thursday, aimed at pushing back on a spot Cotton has been running trying to cast Pryor as weak on immigration.
The congressman has criticized Pryor for supporting an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last year, equating it to amnesty. Pryor's 30-second spot unveiled Thursday features a quote from Republican Sen. John McCain, one of the authors of the immigration overhaul, saying the measure isn't amnesty.
"Mark Pryor voted the same way as John McCain and many other Republican senators," the narrator says in the ad.
Cotton had cited border security as one of his top concerns when he launched his bid to unseat Pryor a year ago and had written an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal criticizing the immigration reform bill last summer. But the issue had been overshadowed by Cotton and Republicans instead focusing primarily on criticizing Pryor's support for the health care law.
Cotton and Republicans are reviving the issue over the August recess, with attention focused on the border crisis involving an influx of young Central American immigrants crossing into the U.S. illegally from Mexico. Cotton recently blamed the influx in part on the immigration reform measure.
"It's not surprising when you announce to the world that you're about to give amnesty to anyone inside the United States that people outside the United States start streaming across your border," Cotton told The Associated Press in an interview last week.
The measure approved by the Senate last year offers a 13-year path to citizenship to as many as 11 million immigrants now living in the country unlawfully. It also sets out a series of requirements that must be achieved before anyone will be given permanent resident green card, including doubling the number of border agents and completing 700 miles of fencing along the border.
Pryor defended the measure Thursday during a talk to the Arkansas state Chamber of Commerce.
"It's border security first, and then all these requirements on the folks who are here illegally," Pryor told the group during a question-and-answer session.
Cotton's campaign spent six figures to run the ad, which began airing statewide over the weekend. It also criticizes Pryor for votes against building a border fence, a criticism that Pryor's campaign says ignores his votes for a border fence. Pryor's ad criticizes Cotton for supporting the Republican Study Committee budget, arguing its non-defense discretionary spending would threaten border security funding.
The spots are part of an increasingly expensive television ad war in the race, which is key to Republicans' effort to gain the six seats needed to win control of the Senate. The two candidates and outside groups involved in the race have already spent more than $18 million on the race, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.