Danny Johnston, Associated Press
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Mitt Romney cast Arkansas' Senate race as a way to fight the agenda of the president who defeated him two years ago, as he campaigned Thursday on behalf of Congressman Tom Cotton's bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.
Speaking to reporters after headlining a pair of fundraisers for Cotton, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee praised Cotton and said his bid was crucial to Republicans' efforts to win control of the Senate. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to win a majority in the U.S. Senate.
"The entire nation cares about this race," Romney said. "We care about this race because the question is are we going to take the course that's been set by Barack Obama and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid, or are we going to instead take a course that leads to better jobs and higher incomes and a secure border and more energy and lower prices?"
Romney, who won more than 60 percent of the vote in Arkansas in his unsuccessful White House bid, had campaigned a day earlier for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Asa Hutchinson in northeast Arkansas.
Though Romney didn't mention Pryor by name, Cotton used the appearance to portray his Democratic rival as too closely aligned with the president. He derided Pryor as a "loyal foot soldier" for Obama.
"Arkansans did render their judgment on the Obama agenda two years ago when they voted for Gov. Romney. They do have a chance to render that judgment and make it effective in 2014 by retiring Mark Pryor," Cotton said.
Pryor's campaign dismissed Romney's criticism and accused Cotton of being out of touch with the state.
"Arkansans know Mark Pryor is a steady and reliable voice for our state, and he'll stand up to his party or the president when their policies are wrong for Arkansas," Pryor spokesman Erik Dorey said.
Romney praised Cotton's stance on border security, but said he hoped to see immigration reform addressed after the election. Immigration was an issue singled out by a GOP-commissioned "autopsy report" last year that analyzed Romney's loss to Obama.
"I think it's important for our nation and the millions of people who are here illegally today to understand what their prospects are and what their future will be in this country and to have immigration reform by securing the border first and by ultimately changing our system in a way to make it more transparent and more navigable by people who want to come here legally," Romney said.
Cotton has criticized Pryor for voting for the immigration reform measure passed by the Senate last year, calling it amnesty. Pryor has called that criticism misleading. The bill creates a pathway to citizenship over 13 years for millions of immigrants in the country unlawfully, but also sets out a series of requirements for securing the border that must be met first.
The Arkansas Senate race is one of the most expensive in the country. Pryor, Cotton and outside groups have spent more than $19.2 million on the race combined, according to the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation.
Romney is among a series of national GOP figures visiting the ahead of the November election, and had campaigned for Republican gubernatorial hopeful Asa Hutchinson in northeast Arkansas. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have also campaigned in the state this week, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is set to visit next week.
Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo
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