Ron Fournier, the former Arkansas newspaper reporter who’s now a premier correspondent for the National Journal, continues his reporting on Arkansas politics with an assessment of races for U.S. Senate and governor beginning  with a throwdown on President Obama and Democrats in general he heard while sitting in a chair at Jerry’s Barber Shop in the Heights. It’s not all bad afterward.

The U.S. Senate race Fournier boils down to the Mark Pryor family brand versus the Tom Cotton biography, but he comes away less impressed by the Tom Cotton record than some parachuting reporters.

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Cotton is an overrated candidate. Setting aside his impressive biography, he is not a strong retail politician in a state that values handshake-to-handshake combat, and Cotton’s brief record in Congress falls to the right of the state’s GOP mainstream. He voted against the farm bill and disaster relief while supporting the government shutdown and a plan to raise the Medicare eligibility age.

In the governor’s race, Fournier finds Republican Asa Hutchinson, his party’s likely nominee, with a lead in the polls over Democrat Mike Ross, who faces only token opposition in this week’s primary. Here, the themes boiled down to “lobbyist” Hutchinson versus “liberal” Ross, at least in the terms the opposing camps throw at each other. About that current Asa lead?

Don’t underestimate Ross. First, he has raised significantly more money than Hutchison, wisely saving a pile of it to go negative after this weeks’ primaries. Second, he oozes ambition and is one of the slipperiest candidates I’ve ever interviewed (and, well, I covered Bill Clinton in Arkansas and Washington).

He finds no spin-back on the thinking that Obama is deeply unpopular in Arkansas. Not even a tiny bump from his recent triumphant tornado-scene visit.

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