Familiar Faces, Issues Mark Arkansas Politics in 2013

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 8:51 am  

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

LITTLE ROCK — Welcome to the new politics of Arkansas. It looks just like the old politics of Arkansas.

Despite all the talk of the changed electoral landscape in Arkansas after recent GOP gains, there were plenty of familiar faces, themes and issues that highlighted the state's politics in 2013.

—A two-term senator faced a frenzied and expensive re-election fight, fending off attacks from Republicans who tried to tie the lawmaker to President Barack Obama.

—The president's signature health care overhaul again loomed over the legislative session, with lawmakers divided over how to implement it at the state level.

—The state's congressional delegation grappled with an unpopular federal government shutdown, while ethical miscues undermined the public's trust in elected officials from both parties.

—And once again, a Democratic political veteran named Mike was battling with a Republican named Asa for the state's top office.

All of the story lines played out during what would normally have been an off-year in the political calendar.

"We haven't seen an election cycle like the one we're going into in 2014 probably ever," state Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco told members of the Political Animals Club in November.

The overriding focus for both parties in 2013 was — and will continue to be in 2014 — the fight for U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor's seat. Six years after winning re-election without any Republican opposition, the two-term Democratic lawmaker enters 2014 as the top target of national conservative groups and state GOP figures.

It's a familiar scenario for Democrats, who saw two-term Sen. Blanche Lincoln lose her re-election bid after being pilloried by the right for her vote for the federal health care overhaul. Republicans have replaced their chant from "Bye Bye Blanche" to "Retire Pryor."

And, like Lincoln, Pryor faced pressure on the left at the same time he was fending off the right. A gun control group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg aired ads in the state criticizing Pryor for opposing expanded background checks for firearms. Conservative groups such as the Club for Growth also targeted him with television ads.

Pryor insisted he wasn't ready to get into campaign mode.



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