Arkansas is an important state this year which has recently grown in importance if that were possible. There is a hotly contested gubernatorial and Senate race and two of the state’s congressional seats, currently held by Republicans, have become interesting. The First District and Third District are safe Republican holds. The interest lies in the open Second and Fourth Districts with [mc_name name=’Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’G000567′ ] vacating the spot for a run at Lt. Governor in the 2nd and [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001095′ ] running for the Senate from the Fourth.
In all likelihood, Cotton’s seat is most likely to remain in control of the GOP. In that race, Bruce Westerman- the Majority Leader of the Arkansas House- had to defeat businessman Tommy Moll in the the primary while the Democratic candidate, James Lee Witt, is a former FEMA Director. In July, Westerman held a commanding lead in the available polls, but a recent poll puts Witt within 2 points of Westerman. This district encompasses the southwestern corner of the state and has a Democratic streak when it comes to representatives, but has gone for the GOP in presidential elections the last three times out. In 2000, Gore barely won it. Recently, Witt had Clinton weighing in on his side which is probably why there was a bump in the polls. Although I will likely revisit this race at the end of this series, I am predicting that Bruce Westerman will prevail by about 8-10 points.
The centrally located Second District is a different story. This district has a history of electing Democrats dating back to the 1800s, but Republicans of late. With Griffin vacating the seat, the Republican candidate is French Hill, a former Bush aid facing Pat Hays, the former mayor of North Little Rock. If polling is any indication, this should be a barn burner of a finish. The most recent polling shows Hays up, but more important is the specifics of that poll. Hays leads among women and blacks while Hill has basically sewn up Republican partisans also. And since 57% of the voting public lives in Pulaski County, it is very important in this race. Unfortunately, Hays leads 55-35 in this county. But since overall he leads by 4 points, Hill is making up for that discrepancy somewhere and that “somewhere” is elsewhere in the district and among independents where he leads 50% to 35%. If that lead among independents holds up until Election Day AND if he can improve slightly inside Pulaski County and slightly build on leads elsewhere, it may be enough to pull out a victory. Those are a lot of “ifs” to consider. Again, I am likely to revisit this race shortly, but at this point I have to call it for Hays by about 2 points.
In the gubernatorial race, Democratic incumbent Mike Beebe is term limited. Asa Hutchinson is the GOP candidate while former Congressman Mike Ross is the man for the Democrats. Hutchinson is a former DEA and Homeland Security official under Bush and lost the 2006 gubernatorial election to Beebe. Ross, meanwhile, was a fairly popular, centrist Democratic congressman, so both candidates enter this race with some gravitas. The campaign, especially the recent debates, have been testy at times. One issue that developed was Hutchinson’s defense of an alleged Communist Chinese spy which he has likened to John Adams’ defense of British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. This race has the potential to go down to the wire. However, prediction: Hutchinson by 4-5 points.
Finally, there is the marquee Senatorial race where Democratic incumbent [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000590′ ] finds himself in a tough race against Republican [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001095′ ]. Before this race began, most believed that Cotton would be the best candidate as he can bridge the gap between the Tea Party and the Establishment elements of the GOP. Pryor is trying portray himself as a centrist. Looking at raw statistics, he follows the Obama agenda 78.3% of the time which ranks him 50th of the Senate’s 53 Democrats. However, it is the big ticket items like the stimulus and Obamacare that hang around his neck and are his vulnerabilities. He has been attacking Cotton for his alleged naivete, relative inexperience in Congress and, ironically, his military service at times. For his part, Cotton has kept up the attacks on Pryor’s voting record while using that military experience to his advantage.
Unfortunately for Pryor, he has been inflicting some damage on himself. For example, in response to a recent question, he redefined the middle. Although receiving support from the NEA, he attended fund raisers for a group that supports expansion of charter schools which the NEA opposes. A college essay he wrote has recently surfaced where he argues that the federal government’s desegregation of schools in Arkansas in 1957 was misguided. He has waffled on an adequate government response to the Ebola scare. Thus, enter Bill Clinton to campaign for Pryor.
Additionally, Obama’s recent statements that his policies are on the ballot vis-a-vis Democratic incumbents seeking reelection who voted for them has hurt Pryor. Since Labor Day, Cotton has led fairly consistently in the polls. Those polls show an abnormality- Cotton actually leads among women. Among independents, who admittedly identify with the GOP to a greater degree but will vote Democratic, Cotton leads 59-28%. In fact, Cotton leads in all congressional districts except the centrally located Second where the Pryor lead can be overcome. This detailed Hendrix College poll shows Cotton up by 8 points. When the poll was adjusted to a more Democratic-friendly model of interpretation, he still came out ahead by 7 points.
All of this does not bode well for [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000590′ ]. Assuming [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001095′ ] does not inflict any damage on himself and keeps up his line of attack on Pryor, he should prevail. At this point, this is Cotton’s race to lose. Many pundits are still calling this race a “toss-up.” Prediction: [mc_name name=’Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’C001095′ ] by about 5 points. I do not believe there will be a lot of drama here and I suspect this race will be called fairly early in the night.