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The Last Word

Who’s Winning the Political Perception Game?

By Mitchell Lowe, Guest Writer

While it’s difficult to identify any political winners in the aftermath of last month’s partial federal government shutdown, it’s not difficult to deduce that U.S. Senator Mark Pryor likely benefits the most from the fact that it occurred more than a year prior to Election Day 2014. Several recently released surveys show that Arkansans place most of the blame for the shutdown on President Barack Obama and the Democrats. One such poll, the 15th annual Arkansas Poll, conducted by the University of Arkansas from October 10-17, reveals that 39 percent of likely voters blamed the President and his party for the shutdown, while 27 percent placed blame with Republicans in Congress.

 That’s bad news for Senator Pryor and his fellow Democrats. The good news for them is that the shutdown, while dramatic and newsworthy at the time, simply occurred too early to have an impact on next year’s elections. But the polling data accumulated in the days after the shutdown is important. It not only provides indisputable evidence that President Obama remains politically toxic in Arkansas, it also clearly indicates that Senator Pryor – who will be atop the Democratic party’s 2014 ballot and is the only Democratic member of the state’s Congressional delegation – is positioned to bear the brunt of the blame when Arkansans go to the polls next November. In the Arkansas Poll, a mere 29 percent of likely voters approve of President Obama’s job performance. The disastrous unveiling of ObamaCare has undoubtedly driven those numbers down further.

Senator Pryor’s numbers aren’t much better with only 34 percent of likely voters approving of his performance. For perspective, Senator Pryor is polling well below former Senator Blanche Lincoln’s Arkansas Poll numbers a year before she was voted out of office in 2010. In 2009, 43 percent of those polled approved of her job performance. Despite a significant money advantage, she received 37 percent of the vote a year later in a crushing loss to then-Congressman John Boozman.

Democrats in Arkansas know they must separate themselves from national Democrats and convince the state’s conservative electorate that they’re not in lockstep with liberals in Washington, DC. Democrats had limited success doing this in 2010 and 2012.

The work has begun. In his race for Governor, former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars portraying himself as a conservative. However, one particular vote he cast in July 2009 as a Member of the House Energy and Commerce committee will get plenty of attention. That vote was in favor of an early version of ObamaCare that allowed the federal health care legislation to advance and eventually become law. Unfortunately for Ross, this vote ties him to an unpopular president and an unpopular law. Time will tell if he’s able to overcome this obstacle and defeat the likely Republican nominee, former Congressman Asa Hutchinson. Incidentally, January 2013 marked the first time Republicans controlled the state legislature since 1874. If Hutchinson is successful next year, Republicans could make history again; the party has not held both the governorship and the legislature since that same year.

Mitchell Lowe is a political consultant and an associate with Capitol Advisors Group in Little Rock, Arkansas. He can be reached at

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