Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced he is officially challenging Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Tuesday, vastly improving Republican chances to win control of the United States Senate in 2014.

Home town favorite
Speaking at a community center in his small hometown Dardanelle, Ark., Cotton opened his speech by thanking his dad, who has “been the voice of Sand Lizard football for 25 years,” and his mom, who as a “teacher and principal at the Dardanelle schools for 40 years” has become “an expert on local family trees.” “I see a lot of familiar faces tonight: teachers, coaches, childhood friends, teammates, neighbors and mentors,” Cotton said. “And I owe you all a debt, too.”

Obama’s water boy
Cotton’s opponent, 10-year incumbent Mark Pryor, ran unopposed by a Republican in 2008 and has since felt free to take many unpopular votes for President Obama, including deciding votes for both Obamacare and the Senate’s recent immigration bill. Cotton has emerged as a leader on immigration enforcement, in particular, and Pryor’s vote for amnesty is sure to become a major issue in the general election.

One step closer to majority
A Harper Polling poll released Tuesday found that Cotton already had a slight edge on Pryor, 43 percent to 41 percent, even before he announced. As Cotton details Pryor’s strong history of supporting Obama’s agenda, Pryor’s 40 percent unfavorable rating will only rise.

If Cotton does defeat Pryor, Republicans would need only five other seats to secure a slim 51 vote Senate majority in 2014. With incumbent Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., retiring, and popular Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer bowing out of the Big Sky senate race, Republicans are now positioned to pick-up three open senate seats in states that Mitt Romney won handily (South Dakota and West Virginia being the other two).

Add Arkansas to the three open seats (giving Republicans 4 pick-ups), and now the GOP only needs to win two out of three of the other senate seats incumbent Democrats are defending in states Romney won in 2012 (Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Kay Hagan, D-N.C.).

The odds are still long, but if Republicans can keep landing five-star recruits like Cotton, the senate will be their’s to lose

From The Washington Examiner
Editorial: Has Obama learned nothing from his past housing failures?
Mark Flatten: VA slow to clean up broken veterans preference contracting mess
Tim Mak: Pentagon reduces furlough days from 11 to 6
Susan Crabtree: U.S. files charges against Benghazi attacker
Rebecca Berg: Rep. Tom Cotton makes his bid for U.S. Senate official
Michael Barone: Colleagues rally to support Larry Summers
Joseph Lawler: Americans are still afraid to quit their jobs
Byron York: Why isn’t Rick Santorum the GOP 2016 frontrunner?
Ashe Schow: 207 coal plants will close in the next decade
Tim Carney: Megabanks are a creature of government, not of unbridled capitalism
Conn Carroll: Higher education is a government-created cartel
Susan Ferrechio: Conservative groups use Obamacare, immigration reform, spending to fuel their efforts to oust incumbents
David Drucker: Republicans face challenge convincing voters to support government shutdown over Obamacare
Diane Furchtgott-Roth: A homeless, minimum-wage worker with a union PR agent?
Neil McCabe: Exposing government’s dark places is Tom Fitton’s daily passion
Noemie Emery: Why Lincoln will always matter

In Other News
Reuters, Obamacare months behind in testing IT data security: The missed deadlines have pushed the government’s decision on whether information technology security is up to snuff to exactly one day before that crucial date, the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general said in a report.

The Washington Post, Obama administration authorized series of recent drone strikes in Yemen: The Obama administration authorized a series of drone strikes in Yemen over the past 10 days as part of an effort to disrupt an al-Qaeda terrorism plot that has forced the closure of American embassies around the world, U.S. officials said.
McClatchy Newspapers, Bank of America defrauded investors of ‘prime’ mortgage securities: Bank of America defrauded investors who bought securities backed by prime mortgages that eventually soured, concealing information about the risks of the loans, federal authorities said in two lawsuits Tuesday.

Lefty Playbook
Think Progress says America Still Isn’t Rid Of The White Economic Supremacy That Drove The March On Washington.
Talking Points Memo complains that Republicans are not giving special Obamacare exemptions to churches.
Isaac Choitner says racial polarization is all the GOP’s fault.

Righty Playbook
Ross Douthat on how Democrats have helped racially polarize the electorate.
John Ligon on Obama’s determination to keep the federal government in the housing business.
Erick Erickson reports that the NRSC and DSCC have declared truce on Obamacare exemption for staffers.