Brawner: Senate race will put Arkansas center stage

Steve Brawner

In another era and in different circumstances, this column might have begun with, “No sooner had Rep. Tom Cotton announced that he was running for the U.S. Senate Tuesday than his opponent, Sen. Mark Pryor, began attacking his record.”


But Arkansas will be at or near the center of the political universe in 2014, so it happened sooner than that. The Pryor campaign released a statement the week before Cotton’s announcement declaring that Arkansans wouldn’t like Cotton’s record once they became familiar with it.

Pryor, meanwhile, has been the target of negative ads for months by people who, though not officially affiliated with the Cotton campaign, have been working to elect him.

In another life, I once had a political operative tell me, “My philosophy is, if they hit you with a feather, you hit them with a brick.” If there’s something harder than bricks, the Cotton and Pryor campaigns will be throwing them.

This is happening in Arkansas because Pryor is a vulnerable Democratic senator in a state that is trending the other direction. Not too long ago, five of the six members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation were Democrats and one was a Republican. Those numbers were reversed in 2010, and at the same time, Republicans have taken over the Legislature after a century and a half of Democratic rule. Plus, because it’s small, Arkansas is a much cheaper state to win than, say, California.

If Republicans win the Senate, they’ll control the Congress since they already control the House, but they face an uphill battle. Democrats and their allies now occupy 54 seats, there is a special election in New Jersey where the Democrats probably will take a seat from the Republicans, and Vice President Joe Biden can break any 50-50 tie.

However, Republicans do have some advantages this cycle. Mid-term elections tend to favor the party that doesn’t occupy the White House. In fact, Republicans gained nine seats in 1994, two years into President Clinton’s first term. The electorate in 2014 will be older and more conservative than it was in 2012, when President Obama was on the ballot inspiring young people to vote. According to the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, Democrats control 20 of the 35 contested Senate seats this year, which means they have more turf to defend.

Still, six seats is a lot. For Republicans to get there, they probably must win the Pryor-Cotton race. If Democrats hold onto Pryor’s seat, they’ll probably keep control of the Senate.

This will be one of the most important, most watched races in the country. That means the money will be there for both Cotton and Pryor — enough to buy plenty of bricks.

My advice? Duck.

Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner