Mark Pryor's Bid Different Than Blanche Lincoln's (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 3:34 pm  

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. (left), and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.

LITTLE ROCK - A two-term moderate Democrat in Arkansas faces an uphill re-election fight, battling an anti-Obama tide in a race that's turned into a key battleground for control of the U.S. Senate.

The story sounds familiar, but the comparison may not go much further than that. U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor is no Blanche Lincoln, and the 2014 election isn't 2010.

That's good and bad news for Pryor, who's trying to avoid the same fate as his fellow Democrat at the polls next year.

Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton's announcement last week that he's trying to unseat Pryor next year sets up what will be a costly and bruising campaign that could decide which party hold the majority of Senate seats. It also leads to the inevitable parallels between Pryor and Lincoln, the Democratic senator who lost her bid for a third term in a similarly expensive and nationalized race.

Pryor and Lincoln have plenty in common. Both are Democrats who managed to appeal to voters by finding a middle ground on some of the thorniest issues in Washington, but both faced challenges in trying to portray themselves as moderates in a state that's trending rightward.

Republicans hope to chip away at that image for Pryor the same way they did with Lincoln: by attaching the two-term lawmaker to an unpopular president and his signature federal health care law. Cotton made that clear in a speech where he referenced the president and the health overhaul more than the incumbent he's trying to topple.

"Do you agree with Barack Obama 90 percent of the time? If so, Mark Pryor is your man," Cotton told a crowd of supporters in his hometown. "If not, stand with me in this election and I'll stand with Arkansas in the United States Senate."

If Cotton succeeds, it'll mark the third election in a row where Republicans have made gains in Arkansas by focusing on Obama - who remains deeply unpopular in a state that he hasn't visited during his presidency.

It's a strategy that Pryor says he's prepared for, even questioning how Cotton would govern since Obama would leave office a third of the way into the six-year Senate term.

"I hope Arkansas doesn't want to waste one of their two Senate seats," Pryor said days before Cotton made his bid official. "You only get two, and I hope Arkansas doesn't waste one of its Senate seats just to send someone to Washington to oppose a president for two years."

Pryor is tempering those comments by trying to keep Obama at arm's length - saying he doesn't think the president has done enough for rural states like Arkansas.

Unlike Lincoln in 2014, Pryor doesn't appear to face the possibility of a primary battle that will leave him wounded heading into the general election. Though he's faced criticism from gun control advocates for opposing expanded background checks, that hasn't translated into an appetite among activists in Arkansas to mount a challenge to Pryor's bid for the Democratic nomination.



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