political analysis by Dr. Williams Yamkam
Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series on the Pryor-Cotton race. Link here for the first essay. This commentary is part of a collaboration between the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and The City Wire to deliver an ongoing series of political-based essays and reports. Dr. Williams Yamkam is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith where he teaches multiple political science courses including a course on campaigns and elections. Besides the various professional trainings that he has received in campaign operations, he is a graduate of American University’s Campaign Management Institute in Washington, D.C.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
Because voter turnout is regularly low during midterm elections, and a president’s party has historically lost seats- with some rare exceptions- in Congress during midterm elections, the strategy that campaigns usually adopt is the base-mobilization strategy.
This strategy usually revolves around two pillars:
• Finding an emotionally powerful issue that at least resonates with the core members of a party’s coalition and at best resonates with many other voters.
• Developing and executing a Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) plan to galvanize the base supporters and get them to the polls.
In this perspective, one could understand why the U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton campaign is mostly focusing on Obamacare that most Arkansans, specially the conservative base, dislike, and why the U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor campaign has been hammering on issues that his likely supporters will get excited about: Medicare, Medicaid, Minimum Wage, and Equal Pay.
Besides, due to the fact that women make up the majority of the Arkansas population and make up an even bigger majority of Arkansas voters, and given the fact that women tend to generally vote more for democratic candidates, it then makes sense for the Pryor campaign to be targeting women voters as it has been. This is why most of the ads supporting Pryor feature women. If Pryor is slightly leading Cotton in the latest TalkBusiness/Hendrix College poll, it is because he leads Cotton by a whopping 10 points among women voters. If Cotton can lead Pryor by 7 points among men and by a whopping 16 points among independents, and still trail Pryor by an overall 3 points, one could easily understand why the battle for women voters is likely to intensify between the two campaigns.
It is unlikely that Cotton will win the majority of women voters, but his main goal would be to reduce the advantage that Pryor currently has among that demographic group. This explain why outside groups supporting Cotton have been running ads featuring…women.
THE GOOD ...
Looking at the average of the polls taken in this U.S. Senate race, it is clear that this race is at this point a statistical dead heat. Each of the two campaigns can legitimately take some comfort in some aspects of the polls and put a positive spin on the current status of this race.
Pryor can argue that despite the bad national political environment for democrats, despite the very low approval ratings of President Obama and Pryor in Arkansas, and despite the very high dislike of Obamacare in Arkansas, he is holding his own and is even leading in the latest poll.
On the other hand, Cotton could argue that he is in very good shape for various reasons:
• He is statistically tied with a political mammoth such as Pryor whose last name is part of the political lore of Arkansas.
• He has been in office for less than two years and he doesn’t yet have a high name identification.
• He is only known in one fourth of Arkansas (4th Congressional District) and hasn’t actively campaigned throughout Arkansas, but is statistically tied with Pryor.
THE BAD ...
The polls also reveal some worrying signs for the two campaigns. On the one hand, as a two-term incumbent, Pryor’s polling numbers should be higher than they currently are.
An incumbent like Pryor who has an approval rating of 34% is certainly in a zone of political turbulence. When the well-known Pryor consistently hovers at an average of 43.5% of the votes, it means that the overwhelming majority of Arkansas voters either does not want to vote for him again or has some qualms about his stewardship in office, and is looking for a viable alternative.
On the other hand, given the current political environment that is quite toxic for Arkansas Democrats, Cotton should be performing much better than he is. For limited comparison, at this point in 2010, on average Rep. John Boozman, was leading incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln 52% vs. 35% – a 17% spread!
AND THE UGLY
Though the Republicans could certainly expand the political map and gain the six seats needed to take control of the U.S. Senate without winning Arkansas, it would become quite challenging to see how they can lose one of the most promising opportunities to win a U.S. Senate seat in Arkansas and win in less-friendly places such as in Michigan, Iowa, or Colorado.
The importance of Arkansas in determining the power balance in the U.S. Senate can be seen via the massive amount of money that has already been spent and will still be spent in Arkansas by both campaigns and their outside supporters. The U.S. Senate race in Arkansas ranks 6th on the list of the most expensive Senate races in the country so far.
Based on reports filed to the Federal Elections Commission by 04/11/2014, all the U.S. senate candidates in Arkansas and their outside supporters have already spent an eye-popping total of $8,504,878. We ought to brace ourselves for an additional bevy of negative ads that will blanket the airwaves in Arkansas between now and Nov. 4, 2014.
At the end of the day, the U.S. Senate race between Pryor and Cotton has national implications that transcend the sole interests of Arkansas. Robert Gibbs, president Obama’s former senior advisor put it quite eloquently when warning President Obama and national Democrats about the policy ramifications if the Democrats were to lose the U.S. Senate: “There is real danger that Democrats can suffer big losses. ... If you lose the Senate, turn out the lights because the party is over.”
In November, Arkansas voters get to decide who, of Pryor and Cotton, gets to represent Arkansas at the ‘party’ and whether the ‘party’ goes on.