A Rasmussen Reports Poll released on Wednesday shows that the Arkansas U.S. Senate race is currently a dead heat. Incumbent Mark Pryor (D-AR) leads Republican challenger, U.S. Representative Tom Cotton (R-AR 4), by a single point, 44% to 43%.
The poll of 750 likely voters was conducted between August 25 and August 26 and has a 4% margin of error.
The Rasmussen Reports poll is consistent with the results of a PPP poll conducted between August 1 to August 3, which showed Cotton leading Pryor by two points, 43% to 41%.
The surprisingly close race, which most pundits had chalked up months ago as a near certain Republican victory, indicates that Pryor’s campaign strategy has, so far, succeeded. That strategy appears to have two elements: (1) attack Cotton with anything that might possibly stick; (2) provide voters with a clear contrast between Pryor’s retail style of person-to-person campaigning and Cotton’s less engaged approach, which U.S. News and World Report described as “wooden and academic.”
Pryor recently launched a television ad attacking Cotton on the improbable grounds that the 37-year-old Congressman has an Ebola-friendly voting record.
“Tom Cotton voted against preparing America for pandemics like Ebola,” the ad charges.
The Cotton campaign pushed back by ridiculing Pryor, saying in a statement, “Senator Pryor’s desperation is comical. In Senator Pryor’s world, he doesn’t have to take responsibility for rubber-stamping the Obama agenda over 90% of the time, but wants Arkansans to believe Tom Cotton is responsible for everything from Ebola to crabgrass and male-pattern baldness.”
The Cotton campaign missed an opportunity to tie concerns over the possibility that Ebola might become a public health problem in the United States by pointing out that Pryor’s support for President Obama’s failure to enforce current border security laws is a huge gap through which carriers of the Ebola virus could enter the country.
Since April, Pryor has repeatedly doubled-down on his support for Obamacare, despite its relative unpopularity and poor performance since the launch of its website last fall.
The Pryor campaign has decided to play offense only in this campaign, while forcing Cotton to play defense.
To date, the Cotton campaign does not appear to have an effective counter-attack strategy in place. Given the important role taking back this Senate seat from the Democrats plays in securing a Republican majority in the Senate, an effective plan to put Pryor on the defensive will be critical to the party’s success in the 2014 elections.