Cook: The Arkansas GOP’s Limited Bragging Rights

by Michael Cook ( 5 views 

Based on Talk Business’s recent poll, Arkansas Republicans have a few things to brag about. Yet when considering Arkansas’s political climate, Republicans are falling far short of where they should be at this point.

Moreover, even with strong political headwinds, the two major statewide Democratic candidates are holding their own and keeping their races competitive.

First, the good news for Arkansas Republicans.

The Republic Party’s presumptive nominee for Governor leads his Democratic rival, their nominee for U.S. Senate is neck-and-neck with the incumbent and, unlike the rest of the country, Arkansans blame President Obama and Congressional Democrats by a plurality for the government shutdown.

For further perspective, Republicans hold 5 of the 6 seats in the Congressional delegation and they control the Arkansas General Assembly. And it almost should go without saying that Obama is not popular in The Natural State.

Yet even with these mighty winds at their back, Arkansas Republicans can’t seem to sail away with victory.

Governor’s Race
Republican Asa Hutchinson leads Democrat Mike Ross, 41% to 37% with 22% undecided. While Asa leads, this race is a toss-up due to the closeness of the race and the large number of undecideds. Click here for detailed info on the Talk Business poll for the governor’s race.

With this latest poll, Hutchinson retains bragging rights on being in the lead in every public poll released so far in this campaign. However, at this point in the race Hutchinson is supposed to be in the lead and will likely remain so until the candidates begin spending money on television.

Asa Hutchinson’s small lead can be largely attributed to his significant name recognition. Hutchinson has previously been on the statewide ballot three times, he’s served as a three-term Congressman and his brother, Tim Hutchinson, served as a U.S. Senator.

The Hutchinson name is very well-known in Arkansas. Hutchinson leads against a former Congressman who is still not well-known in three Congressional districts.

What struck me most on the poll data for this race is that the well-known Hutchinson is barely leading in a political environment seemingly tailor-made for a Republican win.

Finally, fundraising numbers are released on Tuesday and it’s incumbent upon Asa Hutchinson to either outraise or come close to Mike Ross in the money-raised department. If Hutchinson fails to do so, then he damages his viability since a close race, coupled with anemic fundraising, will cause major donors to bet on Ross and leave Asa behind.

Senate Race
Talk Business tested Mark Pryor’s job approval rating in their recent poll and found that only 34% gave him positive marks and 48% disapproved of his job performance. Those are not the numbers an incumbent Senator wants to see heading into an election year. Click here for more details about the Senate portion of the Talk Business poll.

One would think after seeing that first set of data that Mark Pryor is not only losing his re-election bid, but losing badly.

On the contrary, Mark Pryor leads his Republican challenger by a razor-thin margin, 42% to 41%.

Make no mistake, Pryor’s numbers don’t give one too much cause to celebrate. However, even with these political winds blowing against him, Mark Pryor still maintains a lead and this is the third public poll I’ve seen showing Pryor leading Tom Cotton.

Mark Pryor has had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at him this year. Big money groups on the left ran TV commercials castigating Pryor for voting against gun background checks. Big money groups on the right ran TV commercials hitting Pryor for voting for the Affordable Care Act.

Plus, the Democratic President and his signature piece of legislation are extremely unpopular in Arkansas.

Yet with all these headwinds and attacks against him, so far voters are not convinced they want to fire Pryor and hire someone else, especially Tom Cotton.

Let’s not forget that at this point two years ago, Senator Blanche Lincoln was losing in every public poll to literally every Republican candidate tested. Even Curtis Coleman was beating Lincoln in public polls at this point two years ago.

Pryor has aggressively worked to define Tom Cotton as reckless and irresponsible in voting against Arkansas’s interests and based on the poll it has worked in keeping Cotton’s vote share down.

Let’s give Republicans their due for some of the advantages these poll numbers show they have heading into an election year.

However, unlike the rest of Southern states, Arkansas Democrats remain very competitive statewide, and even leading in some cases. Republicans should be very worried that with all of their advantages, it hasn’t translated into impressive polling numbers.