Among folks closely following the contest between incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor and challenger Rep. Tom Cotton, including here at this blog, there is a tendency to focus on the day-to-day narrative. The ads, claims and counter-claims, spats, fact-checks, speeches, press releases, debates, debates over debates, gaffes, inflammatory quotes, interviews, townhalls, and on and on.
But the truth is, most voters: 1) Aren’t paying much attention and 2) Have already made up their minds.
This race is very, very close. It’s going to be decided by turnout and get-out-the-vote operations. Democrats have long been telling anyone who’ll listen that this is their ace in the hole. They believe they have an unusually strong on-the-ground field operation. They’d better — in a state trending red, there is the fear that supposed undecideds and independents will break for the Republican. Of course, Democratic base voters often sit out mid-term elections (Pryor has at times been well ahead of Cotton in polls of registered voters, but behind in polls of likely voters). That’s the big question in 2014 in Arkansas — can the Dems’ GOTV machine flip that script?
Bloomberg View’s Ramesh Ponnuru writes that he’ll be watching Arkansas for just that reason:
Like everyone else who follows politics, I’ll be looking at a small number of races on Election Day to get a sense of which party is likely to have control of the Senate next year. But some races have an importance for our political future that goes beyond the question of who runs the Senate.
The Senate race in Arkansas, for example, is not only one of the most competitive contests in the country. It’s also a race that will tell us whether Democrats are beginning to have the kind of turnout success in midterm elections that they’ve had in presidential ones. Black turnout in Arkansas has been low — which means that if Democrats’ efforts to get out the vote are going to succeed, we ought to see the evidence there.
If I had to pick a single unpredictable with the most upside for Pryor, I’d say it would be black turnout. Outreach efforts on that front have been pretty quiet, however, as far as I can tell.
One thing to watch for: the number of new registered voters. The Secretary of State‘s office said that information will be available some time next week.