story and photos by Ryan Saylor
Former Arkansas governor and U.S. Sen. David Pryor, along with his wife Barbara, journeyed across the state Tuesday (July 15) as they campaigned for their son's re-election to the Senate.
Former Arkansas State Sen. Ed Wilkinson, president of Farmers Bank in Greenwood, told a crowd assembled in the main bank branch's conference room that he could not have been more proud to have the elder Pryor making a campaign swing through Greenwood and Sebastian County for son Mark Pryor's re-election to the U.S. Senate this year.
"I was in ninth grade. I put up yard signs. I went door to door. And then, back in those days the bank was over in the other building and on Saturday mornings, we would have a huge backup of traffic in the drive in windows and mother would give me a stack of David Pryor (pins) and said, 'Don't come back until you've run out.' Then I'd run out of those. I'd go to ever car and give one and then I'd go get me some more. I'd do it every Saturday morning. Really, that was my first venture into politics was working for at the time David Pryor for Governor campaign. Just enjoyed it immensely and we have all these fond memories. And now we've also always showed out support for his son, Mark, who has served us so well."
In an interview during the event, Pryor said his tour across the state soliciting votes for his son's re-election effort was about bringing back traditional grassroots methods to a campaign heavily focused on television and the Internet to reach potential voters.
"Well, Barbara and I believe the real thing that's going to make a difference in this race is old timey, old fashioned politics — asking people for their vote, going on the courthouse squares. Today we were in Conway, we went through the courthouse, we went through the square, we called on various businesses, we went to the senior citizens center and just stopping people on the street. And we think just going through the state and just doing it the way we used to do it is authentic and real and they get to know someone who knows the candidate."
Pryor said the one on one relationships politicos can make with voters would make a difference in close races, like the one the junior Pryor — a Democrat — finds himself in against freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle.
"This is the age of electronic media and Facebook and all like that, but we think that this is the important way to campaign."
During his address to those gathered at the bank, Pryor said while his son "does not like to talk about his opponent, I do." He elaborated during the interview, attacking Cotton's voting record since taking office as the 4th District congressman in January 2013.
"We also say we're motivated by the fact that Mark's opponent is someone who, I think, has kind of lost — I'm going to be careful how I phrase this. I don't want to be too negative, but he has moved away from his own delegation, even his own Republican delegation in voting in some crazy ways."
He also took Cotton to task for his vote against the Farm Bill.
"Agriculture is 28% of our economy here in Arkansas," Pryor said. "We just don't understand why he's sort of, I don't want to say lost his way, but he has certainly left the main thinking, I think, of Arkansas."
Having spent much of his life in elected office, Pryor knows a thing or two about poll numbers and he said the situation the junior Pryor finds himself in presently positions him well entering the general election. A recent Impact Management poll had Pryor down slightly against Cotton with about 10% undecided.
"I tell you what, it's so much better than it was a year and a half ago. We feel very optimistic. We've had the greatest and warmest response I think we've ever had in any campaign. We've had a lot of campaigns. People are just beginning to think about this decision they're going to make. They've seen on television all the commercials and now they're beginning to make up their own mind. There's very few people undecided in this race. There's fewer people undecided right now than in any race that I've ever seen. It's like 10% or 12% or something like that. So it's where the battle ground is is for that little sliver out there. But we're making a broad-based appeal and we just feel good about it."
Even with the positive feeling the campaign has going into the general election in the next four months, Pryor acknowledged that when it comes to fundraising, the Cotton campaign will likely continue to out-fundraise his son. In the most recent fundraising report, Cotton reported raising $2.28 million during the second quarter of 2014, while Pryor raised $1.5 million.
"There's no way we can compete with the money that Mr. Cotton is raising. … We don't have Karl Rove, we don't have the Koch Brothers, we don't have a lot of the huge outside corporations that are giving to this campaign. But I truly believe we're about where we need to be and if we were way out ahead, all of our people would sit down and wouldn't work. Now they're going to work harder."
As for being back on the trail — visiting North Little Rock, Conway, Greenwood and Fort Smith just on Tuesday — Pryor admits to feeling some nostalgia on the trail as he visits many places where he burned shoe leather walking door to door, shaking hands and earning votes in his earlier years. And he said the energy of the volunteers supporting his son has energized him to keep campaigning through November.
"I enjoy it, yeah. It beats sitting at home. No, we're both (Barbara Pryor and the former Senator) having a good time. And I tell you what's encouraging, I think one thing that's encouraging to us is all the young people that are coming into this race literally from all over the country. New Jersey, for example, right here. He's never been to Arkansas," Pryor said, pointing to campaign press assistant Grant Herring. "And people from all over. Young people coming in from all over the country. They're watching this race. They're excited about this race. They know what the stakes are and to be around them and the coordinated campaign is truly exciting for us."