Mark Pryor, A Once-Safe Democrat, Tries to Survive

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Friday, Mar. 15, 2013 4:36 pm  

U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., kicks off his re-election campaign Saturday with a fundraiser in Little Rock headlined by former President Bill Clinton, ramping up a race that's already under way with conservative groups on the attack. (Photo by Trent Ogle)

LITTLE ROCK - Twenty months from election day, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor has barely launched his bid for a third term and doesn't even have an announced Republican opponent. But Arkansas voters could be forgiven for thinking that 2014 is already here.

With full-page newspaper ads urging people to contact Pryor on gun control measures to television spots deriding him as President Barack Obama's closest ally in the state, the only Democratic member of Arkansas' congressional delegation has already become a top target for Republicans aiming to win control of the Senate next year.

Pryor kicks off his re-election campaign Saturday with a fundraiser in Little Rock headlined by former President Bill Clinton, ramping up a race that's already under way with conservative groups on the attack.

"They're forcing me to start earlier than I'd like to, but it's just the way it is in today's political environment," Pryor said. "You can't wait because the outside groups, the special interest groups, will spend a ton of money in the state and do everything in the world they can do to put someone else in office."

There are plenty of reasons for Pryor to worry. Democrats have steadily declined in Arkansas, hampered by Obama's unpopularity in the state and Republicans' consolidation of power across the South. In 2010, Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost her bid for a third term. Last year Republicans swept all four of the state's U.S. House seats and won control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

The final trophy for Republicans in the state would be Pryor, a soft-spoken lawmaker with a well-known family name who has focused on consumer-friendly issues such as banning dangerous toys and on trying to craft compromises with Republicans.

They see him as vulnerable after Obama lost the state by 24 points in the November election. The Senate Conservative Fund, a political action committee, has called defeating Pryor its top priority next year out of 33 seats on the ballot and has launched a website for the effort. The conservative Club for Growth also weighed in this month.

"He's supposed to be our senator, but Mark Pryor is really Barack Obama's best ally in Arkansas," declared a television ad bought by the group.

The independent groups and Republicans are striving to distance Pryor from the goodwill he's enjoyed as a longtime lawmaker and the son of David Pryor - a former governor and U.S. senator. The younger Pryor, 50, a former state legislator and attorney general, was the only Democrat to unseat an incumbent Republican senator when he defeated Tim Hutchinson in the 2002 election.

"The name is a name that has been held in good stead, but now it has been linked with a name, Obama, that is not in Arkansas," state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb said. "I think it has fallen out of favor with the average Arkansas voter."

Other groups targeting Pryor include the National Rifle Association, which has run a full page newspaper ad urging Pryor to oppose Obama's gun control proposals. Television ads also aired urging him to vote against Chuck Hagel as defense secretary.

The frenzied attention is a far cry from Pryor's last re-election bid in 2008, when no Republicans even filed to challenge him.

 

 

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