Don’t call Mark Pryor the ‘Blanche Lincoln of 2014.’ Here’s why.

The last time a Democratic senator went before voters in Arkansas, she lost by 20 points. Don't expect a repeat this November.


Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) . (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) is one of the most vulnerable senators facing reelection in November. No one disagrees with that basic fact. But his political obituary may have been written prematurely. Long (but not anymore) viewed -- including on this blog -- as the most endangered senator of the cycle, Pryor has stayed afloat against tough odds and a capable Republican opponent. That was something then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). was never able to do in her landslide 2010 loss.

The latest sign of life for Pryor came in the form of a Democratic poll released Monday showing him with a small lead -- within the margin of error -- over Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), 48 percent to 45 percent. The survey came on the heels of a release of a separate automated poll that also showed a Pryor up three. Now, being under 50 percent seven months before an election against a top Republican recruit in a GOP-leaning state is hardly safe territory, much less for a Democrat running in a state Mitt Romney won by almost 14 points in 2012. But Pryor shouldn't be counted out just yet.

When Lincoln ran in 2010, she had to first survive a heated and expensive primary campaign against Bill Halter, who ran to her ideological left. And a review of the public polling from the end of that primary forward showed her consistently trailing now-Sen. John Boozman by double digits.

So what does Pryor have going for him? A robust coordinated campaign, a voter targeting effort Democrats feel good about and a well-known surrogate Democrats can turn to for support.

Former congressman Mike Ross (D) is running for governor this year. He's arguably the best Democratic gubernatorial recruit of the 2014 cycle. In addition, there are a pair of U.S. House races in the state that are potentially competitive. That's means a statewide coordinated Democratic effort on various levels that doesn't (and won't) exist in many other states -- especially states that tilt against Democrats.

Democrats also feel good about where they are in their data intensive efforts, microtargeting the voters they need to turn out and finding messages that will do just that.

Finally, while President Obama is woefully unpopular, former president and native son Bill Clinton is still a big draw in Arkansas. He headlined Pryor's kickoff event and can reasonably be expected to stay in the mix later this year.

In our most recent list of the 10 Senate seats most likely flip party control, Pryor has been displaced by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) as the most vulnerable seat of 2014.

All that said, Pryor still faces a very tough road to reelection. Cotton is strong fundraiser with a compelling biography. He's an Iraq war veteran who is beloved by the tea party and the GOP establishment, which often don't see eye to eye. Pryor's vote for Obamacare still has the potential to sink him as does a national environment in which the President's image is not strong. Add in the barrage of money conservative outside groups like Americans For Prosperity are spending, and on the whole, Cotton is going to be tough to beat.

Remember, Pryor is still the second most vulnerable senator of 2014. His seat is the fifth most likely overall to turn Republican, according to our recent rankings. But don't count him out. More importantly, don't call him Blanche Lincoln.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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