LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus touted Arkansas' role Tuesday in the party's fight to take control of the U.S. Senate, as he kicked off a series of visits to the state by national GOP figures over the next week.
Appearing with Republican Senate nominee and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, Priebus criticized two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor as too closely aligned with national Democratic figures. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate, and Arkansas' heated Senate race is important to Republican hopes.
"If you want to stop (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid, you've got to actually fire Mark Pryor," Priebus said. "If you want to end this dysfunction in Washington, you have to fire Harry Reid. If you want better health care, better schools, you have to fire Harry Reid. You have to also retire Mark Pryor."
Priebus spoke to a group of volunteers at one of the GOP's campaign offices, appearing with 4th Congressional District hopeful Bruce Westerman and Attorney General nominee Leslie Rutledge.
Pryor's campaign dismissed the criticism, accusing the GOP leader of trying to mislead Arkansas voters on his record.
"The fact is Arkansans know Mark Pryor and they know he's a senator who has never been afraid to stand up to party leaders or a president when Arkansas is on the line," Pryor spokesman Erik Dorey said.
Priebus' visit marked the first in a series of appearance by top GOP figures in Arkansas over the next week. Former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney planned to headline a fundraiser Wednesday for Asa Hutchinson's gubernatorial campaign. The same day, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy planned to campaign for Westerman and 2nd Congressional District hopeful French Hill . And next week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans appearances in Arkansas on behalf of Hutchinson.
The visits show how much Republicans are counting on Arkansas in November, especially in the increasingly expensive Senate race. Pryor, Cotton and outside groups have spent more than $19.2 million on the race combined, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.
Both campaigns and outside groups are unveiling new TV ads on a near-daily basis. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rolled out a second ad as part of a $3.6 million buy announced earlier this month targeting Cotton for voting against pediatric research at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Crossroads GPS also announced a $710,000 ad buy criticizing Pryor's record on Medicare and Social Security.
GOP officials said the campaign appearances by national figures show how much the state has shifted from once being a Democratic stronghold in the South. Republicans now control both chambers of the state Legislature, and Pryor is the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation.
"Certainly Arkansas is in a time of realignment and even though we have been talking about it in Arkansas, what is occurring is now nationally recognized," state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb said.
State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said the visits showed the GOP was more interested in Washington than Arkansas.
"I think they're trying to nationalize the election again, and this is the way to do it," Insalaco said.
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