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Entry of Republican congressman promises hot Senate race in Arkansas

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas speaks at a media conference at a command center near the Albert Pike recreation area near Caddo Gap, Ar
U.S. Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas speaks at a media conference at a command center near the Albert Pike recreation area near Caddo Gap, Ar

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas Representative Tom Cotton, considered a rising star in the Republican Party, announced on Tuesday he will challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor in what could likely be one of the most heated 2014 races.

Cotton had been the favored Arkansas candidate among national Republicans hoping to recruit a strong slate and win majority control in the U.S. Senate.

Pryor, 50, a two-term moderate, is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

Cotton, 36, serving his first term in the House of Representatives, announced his intent to run at an appreciation dinner for constituents in his hometown of Dardanelle, Arkansas.

"Arkansans need a senator who will stand with them and stand up to Barack Obama," he said, "a senator who will say no more to the crony capitalism, the giveaways, the reckless spending, the unfair taxes, the job-killing regulations, and the concentration of unaccountable, unconstitutional power in Washington."

Cotton is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and has been given a prominent role in foreign-policy debates in the House.

In response to Cotton's announcement, Pryor said in a statement: "I don't know who Mr. Cotton's been voting for, but it hasn't been for Arkansas."

"When you vote against student loans and against the farm bill and you vote to cut Medicare and Social Security, you're not voting for Arkansas, you're carrying someone else's water," he said.

Cotton voted last week against a deal to provide students with low-interest college loans.

Candace Martin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, called Cotton "an arrogant congressman whose blind ambition has hurt women, farmers, students and seniors."

Arkansas has moved steadily toward Republicans in recent years despite being the home state of former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

President Barack Obama lost the state in the 2012 election.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mohammad Zargham)

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