Tolbert: Pryor Grabs For Lifelines

by Jason Tolbert ([email protected]) 169 views 

With less than 75 days left until the election, we now can turn our television sets on nearly any channel at any given time of day and most likely will see a political ad within a few minutes.  And by far the race dominating the airwaves is the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton.

It would take multiple posts per day between now and November for me to analyze each one, but I have noticed a theme in the last couple of ads from the Pryor for Senate campaign – he is grabbing for lifelines!

Although the polls show this race is close – Talk Business & Politics has Cotton up by two points – the Pryor campaign seems to be worried that things are not so great as they try to grab on to something that will keep their campaign afloat.

1. Sen. David Pryor’s Popularity – Perhaps this was a softball, but I actually predicted this a couple of Sundays ago on “Talk Business & Politics.”  In his latest ad, Sen. Pryor appears with his dad by his side discussing his bout with cancer.  The image reminds voters of the family link – particularly those old enough to have voted several times for the former Senator in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  This is critical for Pryor trying to win back this older demographic.  Traditional Democrats in Arkansas have done well with the 65 and over voters, but the latest TB&P-Hendrix College Poll shows Cotton ahead with seniors – 46% to 42%. Reminding voters of his popular namesake is certainly a grab for a lifeline.

I will note here that Cotton has used both parents in his campaign ads, however, the use is quite different.  Although Lynn and Avis Cotton are certainly well known in Dardanelle, most people likely were introduced to them for the first time in the Cotton ads. By contrast, most voters already knew David Pryor, who is often considered one of the “Big Three” in the Arkansas Democratic Party alongside Bill Clinton and Dale Bumpers.

2. His Personal Struggle with Health Insurance – The Pryor ad also seeks a lifeline – or perhaps more aptly termed a shield – in discussing his vote for Obamacare – a term he avoids using.  Pryor and his dad discuss his successful fight against both a rare form of cancer and against an insurance company that did not want to pay for an experimental procedure that saved his leg and perhaps his life. He then tries to connect this to his vote for Obamacare saying, “That’s why I helped pass a law to prevent insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Here is the problem. The two don’t really connect. From accounts I have read, Pryor was not denied health coverage because of a pre-existing condition nor was his coverage dropped because he got sick – the two issues he says he sought to address in voting for Obamacare.  Rather, he had to convince his health insurance company that the procedure he and his doctor wanted to do was the correct course of treatment.  Many have suggested things could actually get worse under under Obamacare as the new bureaucracy gets in between the patient and his or her doctor, such as one cancer patient referenced in The Wall Street Journal. Nevertheless, Pryor seeks to connect the two events as he plays an emotional lifeline with voters.

3. He voted with Sen. John McCain – Yep, you read that correctly.  In another Pryor ad out this month, he defends his vote for an immigration bill by saying he voted the same way as Arizona Republican Senator and 2008 GOP Presidential nominee John McCain.  The ad was in response to a Cotton ad that said, “Mark Pryor voted for amnesty…citizenship for illegals.”  The Cotton ad pointed to Pryor’s 2013 Senate vote for a comprehensive immigration bill. The Pryor ad chooses not to focus on President Obama’s push for the plan, but instead on McCain.

Again, here is the problem.  Although some Senate Republicans did vote for the bill, most did not including our own Senator John Boozman who called it an amnesty bill with a “legalize now, enforce later” approach. The unpopular bill was pushed by President Obama through the Senate by some compromises, but died in the House.  In addition, McCain is certainly Republican, but is considered moderate on immigration.  This was one of the more different issues he had to overcome in getting the nomination in 2008.

I am sure there are more lifelines out there I am missing and certainly more will float to the surface in the next few months. But the strategy has to make you wonder how well the Pryor campaign really believes it is faring.