Tight Arkansas Race Hangs on Money, Voter ID Law
Policy + Politics

Tight Arkansas Race Hangs on Money, Voter ID Law

The battle over control of the Senate is growing fiercer by the minute – especially in states like Arkansas where polls are showing the race is a toss-up. Republicans have zeroed in on incumbent Senator Mark Pryor, one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate. Pryor is being challenged by Rep. Tom Cotton, a rising star in the conservative faction of the House GOP.

Outside spending groups have already poured about $17 million into attacking Pryor and have repeatedly tied him to President Obama, who is vastly unpopular in the state.

Related: The Three Hottest Issues Dominating the Midterms 

Pryor has been one of the rare liberal Democratic candidates in this election cycle to actually embrace some of the president’s policies – including Obamacare, which has reduced the uninsured rate in Arkansas by 10 percent.

Still, the law remains highly unpopular among the public. Pryor has also fallen slightly behind in the most recent polls, with Real Clear Politics showing him trailing Cotton by nearly 5 points. Cotton’s gains in the race have prompted the Pryor campaign to elicit the help of the Natural State’s own Bill Clinton – who stumped for the senator last week. 

Still, even Clinton’s star power may not be enough to save Pryor as Arkansas continues turning from blue to red; since the 1990s, the state has slowly grown more conservative. For the first time ever, the state’s Senate and House have GOP majorities. 

Related: Louisiana’s Messy Senate Race Could Hijack the Election

It will all come to down to voter turnout, naturally. A recent CNN poll on the Arkansas Senate race revealed that among registered voters, Pryor was leading by nine points. But among those who said they were likely to vote in the election, Cotton was up by two points.

The Players

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) Incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, 51, served in the state legislature and was elected attorney general before making a successful run for the U.S. Senate in 2001. He grew up in state politics as the son of former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator David Hampton Pryor. He’s served two terms and ran unopposed in 2008, when Republicans didn’t put up a candidate against him.

Tom Cotton (R-AR) GOP challenger Rep. Tom Cotton, 37, is a Harvard educated lawyer and former infantry officer in the U.S. Army who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was elected to serve in the state’s 4th congressional district in 2012. He serves on the House Financial Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

The Issues

Sen. Pryor, who supports Obamacare, has touted the law’s help in reducing the state’s uninsured rate. He’s an advocate of teachers’ unions and has sparred with Cotton on benefits for seniors. Cotton, a fiscal conservative, is part of the “vote no” caucus in the House that’s opposed to “out of control” federal spending. He voted against the farm bill, against disaster relief funding, and against funding for a program to prevent pandemics.


Incumbent Pryor has outraised his challenger, though not by much; he’s also significantly outspent him. Open Secrets reports that Pryor has raised $8.9 million and spent about $7 million. Rep. Cotton has raised about $7 million and spent just $4 million. 

The last spending report showed that Pryor had about $4 million left in his war chest in June, while Cotton had about $2.7 million cash on hand.

Outside groups, meanwhile, have spent roughly $26 million on this race. Some $17 million of that has been for Cotton; $8 million has been in support of Pryor. 



The outcome of the race largely hangs on the pending decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court on the legality of the state’s voter ID law, which went into effect this year. Republicans say the law helps “ensure the integrity of elections,” since voters need to show photo ID. Democrats say the law reduces voter turnout and have made intense efforts to register new voters. “With incumbent Senator Mark Pryor trailing in the polls, voter mobilization is crucial to his hopes of prevailing against very difficult odds,” says The Washington Post.

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