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WASHINGTON -- In another sign of just how high-profile the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas has become, the two leading candidates are getting the majority of their individual contributions from out of state.

But with Republican Rep. Tom Cotton it's a little more so -- 65 percent -- compared to 53 percent for incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat.

Both figures come from a breakdown of Federal Election Commission records by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks political money.

But the candidate figures only reveal "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to out-of-state money, said Hal Bass, political analyst at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark.

Much more pours in from independent groups, he said, including so-called "dark money" organizations that don't have to disclose their donors.

"Suddenly, the world cares who is elected in Arkansas," Bass said.

Similarly, Jennifer Duffy of the Washington-based Cook Political Report said: "It says that this is going to be a very expensive race. There are very few states in which a Senate candidate can raise all the funds they will need in state. Arkansas certainly can't support the kind of money that this race will require."

And Jay Barth, politics professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., said: "There are real limitations to how much political money can be found in Arkansas -- on both sides."

With advertising costs in Arkansas relatively low, Barth said, "outsiders feel like it is a good investment."

In all, Cotton has received $1.55 million from out-of-state individuals, compared to $849,994 from in-state contributors over the past two years. Overall, including money from political action committees and party committees as well, he raised $5.3 million through the first quarter of this year.

Four of the five largest cities for Cotton's individual contributions are New York ($194,664), the Washington, D.C., metro area ($188,607), Chicago ($140,450) and Dallas ($95,100). His largest is Little Rock-North Little Rock ($381,827).

Pryor, in fundraising since 2009, has received $1.67 million from out-of-state individuals and $1.47 million from in-state. Overall, he has raised $8.92 million.

Pryor's largest areas for individual contributions are Little Rock-North Little Rock ($676,630), the Washington, D.C., metro area ($495,043), Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers ($146,292), New York ($114,350) and Texarkana, Ark.-Texarkana, Texas ($74,500).

But the campaigns' fundraising tells only part of the story.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, about $5 million has been spent in independent expenditures by outside^ @groups that have to disclose their finances, including $229,500 supporting Pryor and $961,479 opposing him. That compares with $1.2 million in support of Cotton and $2.64 million opposing him.

But even that doesn't say it all, analysts say.

According to reports in The Hill and Politico, two Washington publications focusing on politics and government, total independent expenditures in the race increase to at least $9 million when money for ad buys by Republican and conservative 501(c)(4) groups is counted. The latter are nonprofit groups under Internal Revenue Service regulations and don't have to disclose their donors.

"Mark is humbled by the grassroots support he receives from folks across the state of Arkansas," said Pryor spokesman Erik Dorey. He added that it "takes a lot of resources to combat more than $9 million that Washington groups and out-of-state billionaires have already spent (for Cotton)."

Cotton spokesman David Ray countered: "We have thousands of Arkansans who have donated to our campaign." He added, "We're proud of the support we've raised."

Further, Ray said Cotton has gotten $526,688 or 10 percent of his money from donations of under $200 apiece, compared to $400,062 or 5 percent for Pryor.

But Bass said Pryor "has run the more Arkansas-centric campaign" while Cotton depends on a nationwide Republican-conservative network.

Said Bass, "He (Cotton) is a national candidate who just happens to be running in Arkansas."

Although some recent polls have shown Pryor with as much as 10-point lead, most continue to show the race extremely tight.

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Contact Paul C. Barton at pbarton@gannett.com

Follow on Twitter @PaulCBarton

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