As you probably know, Senator Mark Pryor is up for re-election next year. So I asked Ward Baker, political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), about the state of the race, potential GOP challengers, and much more.
Despite some conventional wisdom within the state and amongst the DC establishment, Pryor is very vulnerable, according to Baker:
He’s an incumbent that can raise money. I think he has a legacy name but that name apparently isn’t helping him very much. This is a guy that has tried to prop himself up. I believe in December he did six or seven meet and greets; I know he spoke at a lot of Rotaries and Chambers. From what I can see he’s been working it pretty hard, but his numbers aren’t improving. This is a state where Romney won by 23.7%. In an off-year election, where turnout for Democrats in Arkansas could be as much as 7% lower, what’s the spin for them on how they’re going to win?
If we have someone that’s on message and is running a good campaign, and they have turnout problems as we have seen in the last US Senate race…how do they get their people out? We have to have a good candidate that is about the right issues, but for people to think that Mark Pryor is invincible and [Sen. Chuck] Schumer says Pryor will be okay, he’s majorly mistaken.
You have Pryor as someone who can’t break 45% in most polls — he’s not even at 50%. He’s in the mid-40s…this time next year, do you really believe the environment is going to be better for Democrats? When these polls were done, they were before IRS and Benghazi. He’s got a big problem. He had his biggest quarter he’s ever going to have, and that was with multiple events with Bill Clinton. I think when we get a candidate in, we’ve got make sure they run a good campaign and I’m sure they will. We’re going to win Arkansas.
Now to the question everyone is anxiously asking: who exactly will be the candidate to challenge Pryor next year? To his credit, Baker didn’t let any hints slip, saying we need to allow more time for the process to unfold and that the NRSC is working diligently to get the best candidate possible:
We spend a lot of time [recruiting]. We want to be the Nick Sabans of recruiting. I believe, in the 527 world we are in, I don’t think you have to have recruits in right now. I think we have to rethink every single thing that we’re doing. Just because Nic gets in in September or October, there’s still going to be plenty of negative ads. You have to make sure when you get in that your campaign is planned and that you have a message progression. And then you have to make sure that you’re prepared to raise those resources.
(To be clear, I am not running for U.S. Senate.)
Additionally, Baker said there are a number of potential candidates that are polling well against the incumbent Pryor:
Everyone that’s polled is in striking distance, but I can’t go into detail on who we are recruiting or we are talking to or not talking to. There are some people we’re not talking to that might run and some people want to make their decision on their own time and they’re really good candidates. I respect that. Some people want to do their own programs.
As for specific policy areas where the NRSC sees Pryor as especially vulnerable, Baker wasn’t quite ready to show all the cards just yet, but indicated things are about to heat up:
He’s in trouble. This time next year, when people are having to play for Obamacare, how’s that going to play? Arkansas is a pretty red state. Is he for guns or…? Where’s he going to vote next time? His base is upset. There are blogs, your counterparts, saying they’re not going to support him. You get one bite at the apple on some of these fundraisers. Clinton did multiple events for him. Can Clinton go back in and get that same amount of money again? I don’t think so. I think he’s maxed out. He’s going to raise tons of union money; he’s going to raise money from the DC establishment, but he’s not going to have the quarter he did last time. I think he’s sort of topped out.
He’s had a lot of bad votes. He’s on the wrong side of Arkansas and we’re going to make sure that everyone knows about it pretty soon.
A Club for Growth poll released in March showed Congressman Tom Cotton leading Pryor by 8-points. Pryor failed to break even the 40% mark, garnering only 35% of support. The same poll showed Pryor garnering only a 36% favorability rating.