In one of the first big television ad buys during the stretch run of the 2014 election season, the DSCC is going large with a $3.6 million expenditure on behalf of Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. The ad takes aim at GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, and it's pretty devastating:
The ad features Maka Parnell, a retired social worker who talks about the Arkansas Children's Hospital, which she says is "the only pediatric hospital in Arkansas." In just a few words, she heartbreakingly describes what it was like to work there:
I worked there for 13 years. Some nights I'd stay in the intensive care unit. I needed to help the child to not be afraid.Soft music plays as the camera lingers on a shot of a lone teddy bear perched on a bed. Parnell then castigates Cotton as "the only member of Congress from Arkansas who voted against" funding for the hospital. Concludes Parnell: "I don't know where his priorities are, but they're not with Arkansas children." The DSCC must figure it has a real winner here, given the amount of money they're putting behind this message.
Let's hope they're right, because a new PPP poll continues to show a very challenging race. PPP finds Cotton moving into a narrow 41-39 lead over Pryor, with Green Party candidate Mark Swaney taking 4 percent and Libertarian Nathan LaFrance 3; back in April, Pryor was up 43-42. Without the two third-party alternatives, Cotton's edge is all but unchanged at 43-41.
Either way, PPP's numbers are quite similar to the 44-42 spread Hendrix College saw last week. Hendrix's poll was light on African-American voters (just 8 percent of the sample), but PPP has them at a more realistic 13 percent; still, the different weights don't seem to have had much of an impact.
If this were earlier in the cycle, a poll showing an incumbent under 40 would have his opponents dancing on his political grave. But now we're just three months from Election Day, and Cotton's name recognition isn't much different from Pryor's: 20 percent have no opinion of the Republican, compared to 15 percent who say they can't judge the Democrat. We could be in for a very weird race where the undecideds simply have a hard time making up their mind, even though they supported Romney by a 52-25 margin.
And here's another interesting detail: PPP asked both about Pryor job approval and his favorability rating, something they don't typically do. Pryor's approval score is an abysmal 34-51, but his favorables are a better (if still rough) 38-48. That means some 7 percent of the electorate doesn't like the job Pryor's doing in Washington, but they still like him personally.
That speaks to a level of personal likability that shows Pryor still has some ability to create daylight between himself and the national party. Cotton's favorables, though, stand at an even 40-40, and Democrats will have to work hard to drive those down—which is exactly what the DSCC is trying to do with its new ad.