Pryor vs. Cotton: It’s On in Arkansas

In what could become the premier Senate race of the election cycle, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR-4), as expected, officially announced his challenge campaign for the US Senate last evening. The freshman congressman spoke before a boisterous crowd in his small hometown of Dardanelle, just off Interstate 40 between Little Rock and Ft. Smith.

Anticipating the move, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) immediately launched a television attack ad (below), using the typical Democratic campaign strategy of painting his Republican opponent as favoring across the board reduction in government benefits from the farm bill to Medicare to Social Security:

Polling here is already underway at a brisk pace. During the last two weeks, three polls have been released. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) first tested the Arkansas electorate (July 23-27; 729 registered Arkansas voters) and found Sen. Pryor to be leading Rep. Cotton 43-35 percent.

The Magellan Strategies organization (July 30-31; 1,600 registered Arkansas voters) just concentrated on Sen. Pryor’s re-elect score, not even bringing forth a ballot test question. They then added push questions after the original query. According to the initial results, 37 percent of the people would vote to re-elect Pryor while 47 percent would prefer to support someone new. After posing negative push questions that attack the senator for “adding to the deficit,” being the “deciding vote for Obamacare,” and “voting for President Obama’s 93 percent of the time” the second re-elect question swings to only 30 percent supporting Pryor’s re-election and 59 percent wanting a replacement.

As a prelude to Cotton’s announcement, Harper Polling for the Arkansas Republican Party (Aug. 4-5; 587 registered Arkansas voters), finds 43 percent of their respondent pool voicing support for Rep. Cotton versus 41 percent who stand with Sen. Pryor.

The battle lines already are clear, even at this early point in the election cycle. Pryor is painting Cotton as an extremist and an opportunist, citing several instances in his voting record where he is one of only a few members opposing certain legislative initiatives, and running for the Senate after only beginning his congressional career seven months ago. Cotton is attacking Pryor as someone who may have at one time have ‘put Arkansas first,’ like the senator says he does, but for the past five years has put President Obama ahead of what is good for the majority of his constituents.

If the early polling volatility is an accurate reflection of what is to come, this will be a very long, hard-fought, and difficult campaign.

Right now, Sen. Pryor who, from his state attorney general’s post, defeated incumbent Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R) in 2002 and then was unopposed for a second term, must be considered at least a slight favorite. But, it won’t take much for the race to soon move into the toss-up column. Should the turnout model and political climate favor the Republicans by the time of the next election, a Cotton upset is well within the realm of possibility.

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