WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have given U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton the green light to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., in 2014 by already maxing out his leadership committee’s contributions to the freshman Republican.
McConnell’s Blue Grass Committee contributed $10,000 in May to Cotton for Congress, the maximum allowable for a Political Action Committee.
Cotton, of Dardanelle, is considered the most likely challenger to Pryor, who is seeking re-election to a third term in the Senate. But he has coyly told reporters — in Arkansas and on Capitol Hill — that his congressional duties have kept him "too busy" to consider his political future.
Cotton has hinted that he may mull it over during the month-long August recess.
The Blue Grass Committee is focused on electing Republicans to the Senate. The GOP now holds 46 seats, including a temporary appointment in New Jersey. McConnell will likely need to net six victories in 2014 to wrest power away from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., according to New York Times columnist Nate Silver.
Silver says Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas and Louisiana are the most likely for Republicans to pick up, with Iowa and Michigan also in play.
"A race-by-race analysis of the Senate, in fact, suggests that Republicans might now be close to even-money to win control of the changer after next year’s election," Silver wrote Monday.
McConnell’s leadership PAC also contributed to likely Republican challengers in Montana, West Virginia and Louisiana.
The Blue Grass Committee gave $10,000 to Rep. Steven Daines, R-Mont. Daines, a freshman, is considering a run for the open Senate seat that is now held by retiring Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
The committee also contributed $10,000 to Rep. William Cassidy, R-La., who has officially announced his challenge to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
The committee gave $5,000 to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., who is running for an open Senate seat now held by retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Cotton’s campaign raised $611,341 between April and June for a total of $1,137,618 this year. The campaign ended June with $1,045,372 cash on hand, according to its July quarterly report filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The funds in the congressional campaign account could be transferred to a Senate campaign at a later date, or could be used for a re-election bid if Cotton decides to remain in the House.
Pryor’s campaign announced Monday that it had raised $1.2 million from April to June and began July with $3.92 million cash on hand.