Ford O'Connell: Tom Cotton Will Have Tough Race for Senate

Wednesday, 23 Apr 2014 06:02 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has a tough road ahead if he is going to defeat the incumbent name-you-know in a key Arkansas Senate race that figures to go down to the wire, GOP strategist Ford O'Connell says.

O'Connell told J.D. Hayworth, and John Bachman on "America's Forum" on Newsmax TV that Cotton will have to pull out all the stops if he is to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who has held his seat for 13 years and is the son of popular former governor and Sen. David Pryor.

"Well, for Democrats in Arkansas, particularly in the last 10 years, what's happened here is those who've been sort of an institution like the Pryors have been able to get away with a few things that most candidates couldn't," O'Connell said Wednesday.

"Remember, these are the Pryors they know, and when you're in the state race — again, when it's a name you know and a name you've trusted over time, it always gives you an advantage.

"Really, Tom Cotton the Republican is looking for any way to sort of dislodge Pryor, and Pryor is going to play a little bit of a cat-and-mouse game with him."

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That game is already in full swing.

Last month, Pryor said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that Cotton's military service did not necessarily qualify him to serve in the Senate.

The freshman congressman countered with a television ad in which his old drill sergeant talks up Cotton's military background while attempting to put voters "at ease" during what has been a vitriolic campaign.

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On Sunday, Cotton challenged Pryor to a series of five one-on-one Lincoln-Douglas-style debates: without reporters, panelist or moderators.

O'Connell said Arkansas voters shouldn't hold their breath waiting for that debate to occur.

"Mark Pryor is an incumbent and he's certainly on the ropes," O'Connell said. "But you have to remember that incumbent senators over the last 10 years, they won at a 90 percent clip, so right now Mark Pryor does not want to give an opening to Tom Cotton.

"This is a really tight race. It's gone back and forth by a couple of points. It's pretty baked in and it's going to be tight until Election Day. Mark Pryor knows that the worst thing he can do is give credibility to Cotton, and hence he's probably going to duck him all the way to Election Day."

O'Connell added that in order to win, Cotton needs to continue hammering away at Pryor.

"I do like Cotton's chances," he said, "but Tom definitely needs to get an opening because one thing that is going in Tom Cotton's favor is the disapproval of President [Barack] Obama. It's as high as 60 percent. When I combine that with a generic ballot, I'm going to tell you that this is going to be a neck-in-neck knife fight all the way to November."

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