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Southern Democrats support bill prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination

Senators Pryor, Landrieu and Hagan back controversial measure amid tough re-election campaigns

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics editor

southern states smWASHINGTON (CFP) – Senators from the South split along party lines on a pivotal vote to pass a bill extending  workplace non-discrimination protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans.

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U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

Among the senators voting in favor of the Employment Non-Discriminaton Act were three Southern Democrats facing tough re-election battes in 2014 — Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is also facing a tough re-election battle in 2014, voted against ENDA, as the bill is known. His likely Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, has come out in favor of ENDA.

The final tally in the on November 7 was 64-32. However, ENDA is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House, where it will run into a wall of opposition from religious conservatives. House Speaker John Boehner opposes the measure, making it unclear if ENDA will even come up for a vote.

Of the Senate’s 53 Democrats, 52 – include seven from the South – voted for the bill, along with two independents. Ten Republicans also broke ranks to support ENDA, but that list included none of the 21 Republican senators representing Southern states.

Two GOP senators from the South did not cast a vote – Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. However, Sessions opposed ENDA in a procedural vote earlier in the week that Coburn also skipped.

Other Southern Democrats voting yes were Bill Nelson of Florida; Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia; and Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Landrieu and Hagan have been long-time co-sponsors of ENDA. However, Pryor did not announce a position on the measure until a week before the vote, providing the Arkansas Times with confirmation through his press office but making no formal announcement on either his Senate or campaign Web sites.

Pryor is being challenged by GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, who has so far not reacted to Pryor’s decision to support ENDA.

GOP challenger Tom Cotton fires first salvo against Mark Pryor in Arkansas Senate race

Cotton puts up attack ad going after Pryor over Obamacare’s special exemptions for congressional staffers

(See ad below)

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CFP) — The first attack ad of the 2014 Arkansas Senate race features an goose frolicking around the Capitol, coupled with a very prominent coupling of President Obama with incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who is seeking Pryor’s seat, began airing an ad this week entitled “What’s Good for the Goose” that links Senator Pryor’s 2009 vote in favor of Obamacare to the administration’s decision to exempt congressional staffers from getting coverage under the new health care law.

The ad features text saying that Pryor “voted to make you live under Obamacare,” then mentions the exemption, which it terms “special subsidies for Mark Pryor.” It ends with the tagline, “Pryor with Obama, voting against Arkansans,” under side-by-side pictures of the senator and president.

In a statement, Pryor’s campaign dismissed Cotton’s broadside as “frivolous and false.” But the senator has so far not aired a rebuttal ad.

Pryor did vote for Obamacare. However, the exemption that keeps congressional staffers from being forced into the new health care exchanges was initiated by the Obama administration, not Congress, although lawmakers lobbied for the change.

Republicans in the House, including Cotton, have been trying to overturn the administration’s decision with legislation. The Democratic leadership in the Senate has refused to bring up the measure for a vote.

Cotton’s new ad comes amid the government shutdown. House Republicans, with his support, have tied a funding measure to repeal or delay of Obamacare. But over in the Senate, Pryor and the rest of the Democratic caucus have refused to go along.

Pryor’s campaign has blasted Cotton for what it called his “irresponsible cheerleading” for the shutdown.

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor takes direct aim at GOP challenger Rep. Tom Cotton

Freshman Republican’s entry into Senate race draws rebuke from veteran Democratic lawmaker

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CNN) — U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his new Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, are already aggressively going after each other 15 months before Arkansas voters go to the polls.

Announcing his candidacy August 6, Cotton repeatedly tied Pryor to President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the Natural State.

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U.S. Represenative Tom Cotton

“Mark’s been running for office for almost 25 years. Every time, he says Arkansas comes first,” Cotton told a crowd of supporters at a kickoff barbecue in his hometown of Dardanelle in the Arkansas River Valley west of Little Rock. “It’s not so. Over the last 4 ½ years, for Mark Pryor, Barack Obama comes first.”

“Do you agree with Barack Obama 90 percent of the time? If so, Mark Pryor is your man. If not, stand with me.”

But on the same day Cotton announced, Pryor went up with a new TV ad painting Cotton as an extreme right winger, rather than a mainstream Arkansas conservative.

“Tom Cotton should be running — not for higher office but from his own record,” a soothing female voice intones after ripping Cotton for his votes against the farm bill, reduced interest rates on student loans and the Violence Against Women Act.

Pryor’s ad also accuses Cotton of “blind ambition” — a not-so-subtle reference to the congressman’s decision to seek higher office just seven months after his election to the House.

Cotton alluded to his political ambitions in his announcement statement, noting that “some people say I’m a young man in a hurry.”

“Guess what? They’re right. We’ve got urgent problems, and I am in a hurry to solve them.”

A graduate of Harvard Law School who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a captain in the U.S. Army, Cotton, 36, returned to Arkansas in 2012 to seek the 4th District congressional seat, which takes in rural areas south, west and northwest of metro Little Rock.

With funding from the Club for Growth and other national conservative groups, he easily won the seat, taking almost 60 percent of the vote in the general election.

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U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

Pryor, 50, is scion of a prominent Arkansas political family. His father, David Pryor, served as governor and spent 18 years in the Senate before retiring in 1979.

Six years ago, Republicans didn’t even field a candidate against Pryor. But this time around, the GOP smells blood in the water, particularly because of Pryor’s deciding vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

However, Pryor has broken with Obama and the left wing of his party on a number of issues that are likely to help his re-election effort back home. His is just one of four Senate Democrats who still oppose same-sex marriage and also voted against a bill that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.

In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas to Mitt Romney by nearly 24 points.  In addition to Arkansas, Senate races in two other Southern states, Louisiana and North Carolina, feature Senate races in 2014 where Democratic incumbents are running in states Obama lost.

In a sign of how contentious the Arkansas Senate race will be, outside groups have already dumped more than $1 million into ads.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton expected to announce challenge to U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor

First-term GOP congressman has scheduled a hometown event on August 6 to address his plans to challenge Pryor, the Democratic incumbent

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — After just a single term in the U.S. House, Republican Tom Cotton is expected to announce his plans to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Pryor next week.

Cotton, 36, is hosting a barbecue in his hometown of Dardanelle on August 6. While his campaign is not officially saying the congressman will kick off his Senate bid at the event, local Arkansas media are citing sources saying Cotton has decided to challenge Pryor, who is seeking a third term.

Not waiting for Cotton formally announce, the Pryor camp came out guns blazing, saying Cotton “has put his own political career ahead of the people of Arkansas and sided with Washington insiders and special interests.”

“When the people of our state review Tom Cotton’s record, they won’t like what they see,” the campaign said in a statement.

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U.S. Represenative Tom Cotton

Cotton has been widely expected to run against Pryor, who is seem as one of the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents facing the voters in 2014. The race is considered pivotal for Republican hopes of wresting a Senate majority away from Democrats.

A graduate of Harvard Law School who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a captain in the U.S. Army, Cotton returned to Arkansas in 2012 to seek the 4th District congressional seat, which takes in rural areas south, west and northwest of metro Little Rock.

With funding from the Club for Growth and other national conservative groups, he easily won the seat, taking almost 60 percent of the vote in the general election.

In a sign of how contentious his battle with Pryor is likely to be, outside groups have poured more than $1 million in advertising into the race a full 15 months before voters go to the polls. Pryor has already been up on television, and Cotton has more than $1 million banked for the race.

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U.S. Senator Mark Pryor

Pryor, 50, is scion of a prominent Arkansas political family. His father, David Pryor, served as governor and spent 18 years in the Senate before retiring in 1979.

Six years ago, Republicans didn’t even field a candidate against Pryor. But this time around, the GOP smells blood in the water, particularly because of Pryor’s deciding vote in favor of Obamacare in 2009.

President Obama had a miserable showing in the Natural State in 2012, losing to Mitt Romney by nearly 24 points. In addition to Arkansas, Senate races in two other Southern states, Louisiana and North Carolina, feature Senate races in 2014 where Democratic incumbents are running in states Obama lost.

However, Pryor has broken with Obama and the left wing of his party on a number of issues that are likely to help his re-election effort back home. His is just one of four Senate Democrats who still oppose same-sex marriage and also voted against a bill that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases.

One issue Pryor is likely to raise in the race is Cotton’s vote against the farm bll in House, which was defeated in June after a rebellion by GOP backbenchers. He was the only Republican in the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the measure, which was supported by many Arkansas farm groups.

Cotton, who grew up on a farm in Yell County that his family still owns, has said he opposed the bill because it contained too little aid for farmers and too much funding for federal nutrition programs. He voted for a revised farm bill after the nutrition funding was stripped out.

Cotton’s decision to jump into the Senate race will open up the 4th District House seat, which is expected to draw a large number of candidates. On the Republican side, Lieutenant Gov. Mark Darr  and State House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman have expressed interest. Among Democrats, State Senator Bruch Maloch and State Represenative Jeff Wardlaw have been looking at the race.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell draws Tea Party-backed challenger in Kentucky GOP primary

Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment advisor, hopes to duplicate Rand Paul’s feat by knocking off Senate leader with Tea Party support.

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

kentucky mugFRANKFORT, Ky. (CFP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has drawn a Tea Party-backed rival in the 2014 Republican primary, dashing hopes that he might sail into the general election unopposed.

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Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

Matt Bevin, 46, who is a partner in a Louisville investment firm, is expected to announce his candidacy July 24 at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort before kicking off a three-day tour of the commonwealth.

McConnell’s campaign was quick to strike back at news of Bevin’s impending Senate run. Campaign manager Jesse Benton dismissed his candidacy as a “nuisance,” despite recent public polling showing large numbers of Republican voters in Kentucky open to a candidate other than McConnell.

Tea Party activists unhappy with Republican incumbents have been searching for potential challengers in a number of Southern states, including South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee. But McConnell is the first sitting GOP senator in the region to actually draw a serious primary challenger.

In 2010, Rand Paul, backed by Tea Party groups, shocked the GOP establishment in Kentucky by beating Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Senate primary. He went on to win the seat in November.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell backed Grayson in that race. But once Paul got to the Senate, McConnell conspiciously cultivated Paul and his supporters. Among his moves was hiring Benton, who was not only Paul’s campaign manager but is married to his niece.

Paul has since endorsed McConnell for re-election, dashing the hopes of Tea Partiers who want to get rid of the top Republican in the Senate.

A group of 15 Kentucky Tea Party groups released a letter July 22 blasting what they called McConnell’s “progressive liberal voting record, his absolute iron fisted rule over the Republican Party in Kentucky and his willingness to roll over and cede power to President Obama and the liberals in Washington.”

If McConnell makes it through the primary, he will face Democratic Secretarty of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who, at just 34, is nearly 40 years younger than the 71-year-old McConnell.

Grimes won her post in 2011 with 60 percent of the vote, the best performance by a Democrat in any statewide race. However, McConnell’s campaign has already started a drumbeat tying Grimes to President Obama, who lost Kentucky by 23 points in 2012.

McConnell has already raised more than $9 million for the race, giving him a substantial advantage over both Bevin and Grimes.

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