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Pryor to join Obama for tour of Arkansas tornado damage

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) speaks at a campaign event in Hazen, Ark. last Thursday. (AP/Danny Johnston)

Sen. Mark Pryor (RD-Ark.) has gone to great lengths to distance himself from President Obama and national Democrats this year, but he'll be alongside the president when he tours tornado damage in Arkansas on Wednesday.

A Pryor spokesman confirmed that the senator will be back home -- and not in Washington for votes -- on Wednesday when Obama plans to tour recent tornado damage. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) also will be part of Obama's tour, Pryor's office said.

Pryor aides first alerted reporters over the weekend that Obama would be making the trip. Administration officials confirmed the travel plans Saturday and the White House made the formal announcement Monday.

The trip is an official visit and there will be no campaigning. As president, Obama has made countless trips across the country to tour natural disasters, most recently stopping in Oso, Wash. to tour the aftermath of a deadly mudslide before flying on to stops in Asia.

Pryor has taken great lengths to demonstrate he is responding to the deadly tornadoes that wreaked havoc across several states last week, killing dozens. After the storms, he stayed in Arkansas and skipped a vote on a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage in order to help coordinate the federal response to the storms.

While Pryor likely will appear alongside Obama this week as he tours damage, the senator has otherwise gone to great lengths to separate himself from the president, who is deeply unpopular in The Natural State.

As The Washington Post recently reported, Pryor likes to cast himself to voters as an independent senator on Capitol Hill. He told a group of supporters in one small town recently that “I’m not there to represent the president or his party. I’m not there to oppose the president or his party. . . . My job is to represent Arkansas."

Skipping an official presidential visit to tour storm damage likely would generate more controversy than appearing alongside Obama.

And Obama isn't taking Pryor's need to keep political distance personally. He told Senate Democrats in February that he would not be "offended" if he were not invited to campaign with them this year.

Related: Deadly tornados hit Oklahoma, Arkansas (video)


Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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