LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Republican Senate hopeful and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton said Friday that President Barack Obama should visit Arkansas to see the effects of the nation's new health care law — issuing a no-lose invitation that his campaign opponent dismissed as a political stunt.
Obama hasn't visited Arkansas during his presidency, and he remains deeply unpopular in the state where Cotton hopes to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor in next year's election.
Cotton can attempt to make political hay from the invitation whether Obama visits or not. If the president does come, the congressman can say he somehow influenced Obama's decision to visit. If the president stays away, Cotton can claim Obama is afraid to find out what people think of the Affordable Care Act.
Since announcing his campaign bid in August, Cotton has repeatedly taken aim at Obama's signature health care law and Pryor's support for the measure, and he continued to do so Friday in his invitation to the president.
"The president and Sen. Mark Pryor both insist that Obamacare is good for America," Cotton said in a video statement released Friday. "Sen. Pryor called it 'an amazing success story.' It's time they both meet the Arkansans who know better."
Pryor's campaign said Cotton needs to be worried about other matters.
"How fitting that Congressman Cotton sits in Washington and generates political stunts for his campaign instead of working to pass a Farm Bill that folks here in Arkansas so desperately need," Pryor campaign manager Jeff Weaver said in a statement.
Pryor, the lone Democrat in Arkansas' six-member congressional delegation, is seeking a third term next year. Cotton represents south Arkansas' 4th District.
Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, said Cotton's invitation was predictable political strategy.
"The president, and by implication Tom Cotton's opponent, loses if he comes because he and his policies, generically speaking, are unpopular here, and he loses if he doesn't come because he's been extended a gracious invitation and declined it," Parry said. "It's pretty base politics but not out of bounds."
Though Cotton's latest challenge to the president is new, the idea behind his invitation is not.
Republicans have been working to link Pryor to Obama and the signature health care law as they did with former Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who lost to Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman in the 2010 election in Arkansas.
If Cotton succeeds, it'll mark the third election in a row where Republicans have made gains in Arkansas by focusing on Obama. Following the 2010 election, Republicans last year won majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature for the first time in more than a century.
"It's in Tom Cotton's best interest to do everything he can to link Sen. Pryor to a deeply unpopular president," Parry said. "And it's in Mark Pryor's interest to do everything he can to distance himself from that president. And that's what we're watching unfold."
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