WASHINGTON — Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton on Friday called Democrat Mark Pryor a "weak and unsteady voice" on national security, accusing the two-term Senator of flip-flopping on the issue of arming and training Syrian rebels.

WASHINGTON — Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton on Friday called Democrat Mark Pryor a "weak and unsteady voice" on national security, accusing the two-term Senator of flip-flopping on the issue of arming and training Syrian rebels.


Cotton aimed at Pryor’s vote Thursday to authorize training and equipping Syrian. opposition forces to fight against the Islamic State. Two months ago, Cotton pointed out, Pryor wrote an amendment to prohibit such a relationship with the rebels.


"Put simply, Mark Pryor has now shown himself to be a weak and unsteady voice on national security for Arkansans," Cotton told reporters on a conference call.


The Pryor campaign countered that Cotton was stretching for controversy where none exists.


"It certainly seems like an odd strategy to attack Mark for voting the same way as everyone else in the delegation," said Erik Dorey, a spokesman for the Pryor campaign. "It does seem that he is grasping for a political hit even when it puts him at odds with the rest of the delegation."


It was the latest exchange between the Arkansas contestants for Senate, albeit one of the more pointed and personal criticisms that challenger Cotton had hurled at incumbent Pryor.


Congress agreed this week to authorize, through Dec. 11, training and arming up to 5,000 Syrian opposition forces to combat the Islamic State, militant jihadists who now occupies swaths of Syria and Iraq. The entire Arkansas delegation — including Cotton — voted in favor of it.


Cotton, however, questioned Pryor’s motives. He charged only two months earlier Pryor had sought to block funding for essentially the same program.


"The only (reason) I can imagine that has changed for Senator Pryor is that President Obama told him that this is now the party line and, as always, he lines up with Barack Obama to support the loyal Obama line," Cotton said.


In July, Pryor proposed an amendment to a Senate appropriations bill to block funding the White House sought for a similar program to train and arm rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The amendment was rejected by the Senate Appropriations Committee, but was supported by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.


On Thursday, Boozman and Pryor offered similar explanations for training and equipping Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State even as they both continue to have concerns with the program.


"ISIS poses a clear and growing danger, and we need to destroy these terrorists," Pryor said, using an alternative acronym for the jihadists. "I still have reservations about the train and equip program. However, unlike previous versions of this proposal, this resolution includes new and enhanced accountability measures."


"I was opposed to arming the rebels against Assad because you didn’t really know who you were dealing with," Boozman said. "And, if you did arm them and they toppled Assad you would probably be left with a failed state and ISIS would have filled that void."


The authorization, which was approved by Congress, is directed at destroying ISIS and is part of a three-pronged approach that also includes air strikes and building a multi-national coalition to defeat the jihadist group.


"They hacked off the heads of two Americans and said they would see us in Washington. So, I think we have to strongly get them to understand they simply can’t do that to American citizens," Boozman said.


Cotton offered a different take on Boozman’s support of Pryor’s amendment in the appropriations committee. Voting in favor of an amendment is not the same as writing it, Cotton said.


"Senator Pryor is the author of the amendment and he controlled the content. Every other senator simply voted yes or no," Cotton said.


Pryor’s campaign claimed that Cotton has made a habit out of attacking Pryor on issues where he has sided with the rest of the Arkansas delegation — pointing to Cotton’s latest campaign ad in which he "demagogues anyone who supported the farm bill," Dorey said.


In the ad, Cotton says he supports Arkansas farmers but could not support a farm bill after President Obama "hijacked the farm bill (and) turned it into a food stamp bill."


The ad earned a "Pants on Fire" from Politifact.com, which explained that agriculture and nutrition policies have been linked since 1973.


Boozman and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, were members of the conference committee that negotiated the final version of the farm bill.