Robert Coon, Blake Rutherford Weigh In On Tuesday's Arkansas Primary

by Robert Coon, Blake Rutherford and Lance Turner  on Wednesday, May. 21, 2014 3:14 pm  

(Photo by Beth Hall)

We’ve seen some efforts from Cotton’s team to soften his image — including well-executed use of his parents in a few recent TV ads — and I suspect we’ll see more. 

Cotton’s team will also have to broaden the playing field of issues to make headway. We know that he opposes Obamacare, wants to reign in out-of-control spending, and is a strong advocate for national defense. But that’s not enough. To combat the “extremist” attacks from Pryor’s side, and to build support with female voters in particular, the Cotton camp will have to be able to demonstrate that he’s compassionate and understanding, and that he wants to provide real solutions that help make people’s lives better. That’s the path to victory.

Blake: Political races of this magnitude don't come around often. It will not only influence the make-up in the U.S. Senate, it will decide whether Arkansas' last, great political dynasty has a future. For Democrats, it’s a very important election. 

Tom Cotton has been unable to capitalize on a number of major opportunities, including the failed roll-out of I suspect that his voting record, particularly on Medicare, pay equity, disaster aid, the Violence Against Women Act and the Farm Bill has a lot to do with that, but he has also underwhelmed in other ways. I thought his decision to appear before the Federalist Society and attack President Obama on the day Obama visited tornado victims in Vilonia was particularly insensitive, for example.

This sort of hyper-partisan haranguing will continue to polarize the electorate and will challenge their ability to see Cotton as more than an ideologue. Cotton cannot change his voting record (and I would not presume he has any desire to), but he can do something about the Harry Potter-like cloak of partisanship he wraps himself in.

The constraints of being a Democrat in Arkansas in the age of Obama are real, and Pryor will have to continue to combat the president's low approval numbers. Fortunately, Arkansas is still a state where, as Mike Huckabee has said, "politics is retail." It’s an arena Pryor knows and excels in. And so on top of a savvy and sophisticated media campaign effort, he's going to have to rely on old-fashioned shoe leather. The more people he meets and hands he shakes, the better he'll do.

There are key demographics both campaigns will have to court and mobilize, but none more so than women. This, I suspect, is where the race will ultimately be decided.

Living At the P.O.

Lance: Well, let’s circle back to something we continue to hear about — the private option. Legislators' vote for and against reared its head in a few races. How do you guys assess its impact in this primary, and what does last night's results portend for the future of the private option in Arkansas?

Blake: The private option was a presence in a lot of legislative races, but its influence appeared to be marginal when measured by wins and losses. Some supporters of the private option won and others lost. Conversely, some opponents of the private option lost, too. Ultimately, I believe Arkansans will see the benefits of the private option, and its negatives — to the extent they really exist — will diminish. But that's not to say opponents won't make a run at de-funding it in 2015, because I believe they will.

Robert: The private option and how it was going to affect GOP primaries has been the talk of the town for weeks. In some races it made a difference. In others it didn’t.

Republican voters are somewhat split on the issue, maybe slightly more against than for — but there is a solid base on both sides. And as much as its what everybody wants to talk about the private option, it's not an issue that can carry a candidate to victory by itself. Certainly it is a strong contrast point for those who are running against it (and a complex thing to explain for those running and defending it), but it can’t be the sole focus of a campaign. Voters get fatigued and disengaged when campaigns focus too much on a single issue — much like how I think people are starting to tune out federal campaigns that seem to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about their plans to repeal Obamacare.



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