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)

"It's a little bit of a problem. He's not been on the ballot with a full-fledged campaign since 2002," said Jay Barth, a political scientist at Hendrix College who has been active with the Democratic Party. "That's a lifetime ago."

Pryor may be in a stronger position than Lincoln was when she prepared for re-election. His approval rating has remained over 50 percent and, unlike Lincoln, he is not expected to face a primary challenge next spring.

So far, Republicans are also lacking a candidate to challenge Pryor. Webb said he's talked to three top-tier prospects, but declined to name them. Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican, has said he's considering a run. Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton is also frequently mentioned as a potential challenger.

Like Lincoln, Pryor is trying to find middle ground in a state that has produced centrist Democratic luminaries like Clinton, former Sen. Dale Bumpers and David Pryor but that has made a dramatic shift rightward in just two election cycles.

On gun control, Pryor has opposed the assault weapons ban backed by the White House and has instead supported a measure intended to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. He's urged the White House to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and supported Obama's pick of Hagel for the Pentagon post.

When asked how he approaches the Obama White House, Pryor responded, "It's not always been an easy relationship."

Even Pryor's choice of Clinton, who remains popular in his home state of Arkansas, as the headliner for his re-election fundraiser is proving problematic. Republicans were quick to question Clinton's announcement that he now opposes a law he signed in 1996 that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Pryor said he disagrees and believes the Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional.

Pryor dismisses the idea that his race will be a test of the viability of Democrats in Arkansas or the South. Instead, he suggests that it will be a referendum on his type of bipartisanship.

"When there's some sort of bipartisan effort afoot, I'm usually at the top of the list for people to ask to get involved in it," said Pryor. "I think that's good for Arkansas. I think it's good for the country."

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