LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., on Wednesday defended his decision to release a television ad this week that accuses Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle of voting to weaken the nation’s preparedness for a possible Ebola outbreak.
The ad, shot in a shaky, hand-held-camera style, features news clips about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and a voice-over that says, “Tom Cotton voted against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola,” over a background of ominous music. Pryor on Wednesday stood by the ad, which the Cotton campaign said seeks to whip up fear of the virus.
Specifically, the ad criticizes Cotton for voting against the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, which authorized funding for a number of public health and medical preparedness programs.
Cotton’s campaign said Wednesday that Cotton voted against an early version of the bill because he objected to one provision in it but that he later voted for the bill when the provision was removed, although Pryor’s ad does not mention the latter vote.
The Cotton campaign called the ad “desperate” and accused Pryor of reaching a “new low” in the race.
“How senatorial is it to lie to Arkansans in order to whip up fear about a deadly African virus in order to win a few votes?” the Cotton camp said in a statement.
The ad has been criticized as alarmist by a number of national pundits, including the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Speaking at a hastily assembled news conference at his Little Rock campaign headquarters Wednesday, Pryor said Cotton’s original vote on the bill was “fair game.”
“The bottom line is, in Congress, whether it’s the House or the Senate, we have to understand the consequences of our votes,” he said. “This is, I think, another sharp contrast between my opponent and me. In this particular vote that we’re talking about he was the only member of the Arkansas delegation to vote this way.”
Pryor said he hopes the Ebola outbreak will subside soon, but “we don’t have any guarantee of that, and it’s important that we are prepared.”
He defended the ad’s omission of the fact that Cotton later voted for the medical preparedness bill, saying, “When Congressman Cotton voted ‘no’ on this, he had no idea that months and months later he might get a second bite at this apple. He had no idea of that. He voted to eliminate the program, and it was very clear what he did.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. is very unlikely, and American health experts have been seeking to calm fears about the virus. Pryor was asked Wednesday if he thought his ad was feeding hysteria.
“I wouldn’t say it’s contributing to the hysteria,” he said. “I think it’s a very current topic that’s on the front page just about every day, or one of the lead stories in the news just about every night. It’s something that people care about, they’re paying attention to. And the two of us have a voting record on this, and our voting record is in sharp contrast, so I think it’s fair game.”