The ad above, attacking Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton in his effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, is one of a torrent of advertising by the candidates, political parties and independent groups (think Cotton’s keepers at the Club for Growth, particularly) that will fatten the treasuries of broadcast outlets in Arkansas to an unprecedented degree in 2014. Voters will weary of them, undoubtedly. And the race for governor will compete in the spending derby, too.
Much is at stake. Perhaps partisan control of the U.S. Senate. Certainly the Cotton-Pryor race has specific and important meaning for Arkansas voter representation in Congress, starkly illuminated by Cotton’s voting record as a freshman congressman.
A Pryor campaign memorandum passed to me is, of course, partisan, but it’s loaded with plenty of worthy specifics. I’ll summarize it below. And I’d be happy to pass along a similar outline from the Cotton campaign should they like to share.
* THEME: Pryor is responsible, Cotton is reckless (see votes on the farm bill, Medicare, Social Security, student loans, disaster aid, domestic violence legislation)
* AMBITION: Too much of it in a candidate is not a good thing. See: Cotton. And see who owns him, particularly the $300,000 bundled from the Club for Growth by which he broke out as an unknown just moved back to Arkansas for a confessional race. He’s so hungry, he appeared to have solicited funds on a radio interview from the Capitol, a no-no. He skipped a day of work to raise money in Texas.
* WHO’S MORE OF AN ARKIE? Pryor will concede Cotton’s fine resume, including voluntary military service.
“At the same time,” the memo comments, “Mark has been a tireless advocate for veteran’s issues in the Senate, and although his undergraduate and law degrees may not be from Harvard, folks here are awfully fond of Mark’s alma mater, the University of Arkansas.”
What kind of Arkie would blow up the farm bill, despite pleas from every farm group. [My comment: That farm thing didn’t work so well for Ag Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln.] Nonetheless, Pryor’s people see Cotton in a lose-lose situation on farm legislation. He either continues his “lonely and reckless” opposition to farm legislation or backs an agreement and thus renders himself a hypocrite on everything he’s done before.
Pryor people think, too, that the addition of 250,000 Arkansans to health coverage, plus other benefits of the Affordable Care Act, in time will be a plus, particularly Arkansas’s bipartisan implementation of a hybrid of Obamacare. Cotton is on record trying to deprive people of those new benefits, plus privatizing existing health programs. Can a Democrat play offense on health care given Obamacare’s low estate and disastrous startup? A senator who voted for it has almost no choice.
* HORSE RACE: Polls repeatedly show the race essentially tied, despite millions in attack ads on Pryor already. Pryor has out-raised Cotton so far. Cotton will undoubtedly close that gap, but the money has enabled Pryor to counter the attacks and do some negative definition of Cotton.
Pryor has a brand name. The campaign will emphasize his record of tending to people back home — putting Arkansas first is a theme polished by his daddy before him. Cotton, the Pryor message is clear, puts first extremist Washington interest groups (not to mention his own strange views evident since his days at Harvard).
* SUMMARY: The race will be close. Pryor will win with his Arkansas First theme against a “reckless” and “irresponsible” candidate.
It’s a strategy, sure enough. But it could fall, along with plans of many other Democratic candidates, to a historic change in the organic composition of the Arkansas electorate. Does it now lean reflexively Republican? Proof of that was evident in 2012, helped by the unpopular president at the top of the ticket. Obama won’t be on the ballot this year. But you may be sure Tom Cotton and other Republicans have no intention of letting voters forget he’s still besmirching the White, and I do mean white, House.