Three new ads from the Mark Pryor campaign showed up today, two of which aggressively go after Tom Cotton’s record “against women.” The first focuses on Cotton’s “no” vote on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), featuring the director of an emergency domestic violence shelter in Mountain Home. The second (which I’m pretty sure was filmed in North Little Rock’s Mugs Cafe) also mentions VAWA, as well as Cotton’s vote against equal pay legislation.
Interestingly, the second ad also slips in what seems to be another circumspect endorsement of one component of the Affordable Care Act. It’s an echo of the August spot in which Pryor touted his vote for “a law that prevents insurance companies from cancelling your policy if you get sick”; the August ad got a lot of national attention, since most red state Democrats (Pryor included) have avoided any mention of the ACA in order to avoid the accursed taint of “Obamacare.” Pryor made the gamble that by mentioning a part of the ACA that’s overwhelmingly popular (and, of course, not mentioning the law by name) he could begin to use his vote for healthcare reform as a positive, rather than running away from it.
The young woman in the latest ad says that Tom Cotton “thinks women should be charged more for health care than men,” her brow furrowing in disbelief as she glances at some presumably damning article on her open MacBook. There’s something to this. Prior to the ACA, insurance companies commonly gave men better deals on coverage than women, simply because men are unlikely to acquire the costly medical affliction known as pregnancy.
Among its many other reforms, Obamacare requires that policies for both sexes cost the same amount, which it accomplishes by spreading the liability for maternity coverage among men as well. Cotton, of course, is against the ACA.
Then there’s the third Pryor ad, which is a totally different animal. It’s a feel-good piece, while also being (as noted by The Hill this morning) a concerted tack to the right. Pryor speaks scornfully of EPA regulations, after which a string of Arkansans appear on screen to say that the senator “led a bipartisan effort to cut government regulations” and “supported tax cuts for small businesses.” Pryor pops up again at the end to declare that he’s working to make the federal government “smarter and smaller.”
It’s fairly harmless, if aggravating. What happened to economic populism? What happened to pointing out widening inequality in America and stagnant pay for the average worker over the past three decades against the backdrop of soaring capital markets? Or highlighting the good and necessary role that a well-functioning, accountable government can play in people’s lives?
And finally, when Democrats use the phrasings of Republicans in talking about bread and butter issues (even if it’s in the most vague and anodyne way), does it really do them any good? Aren’t most of the voters who are attracted to phrases like “cut regulation” and “smaller government” already 100 percent behind Tom Cotton?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there’s more gray area out there in the Arkansas electorate than the polarized media environment suggests. Maybe there’s still quite a gulf between the idea of smaller government and lower taxes versus the hard-right, no-compromise policies that Cotton supports. Pryor is counting on it.