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Analysis: GOP needs an (unlikely) Southern sweep to take back the Senate

Republicans face a tall order of ousting incumbents in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina and keeping a seat in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate,

southern states smThis year, 13 of the 14 Southern states — all save Florida — will have a Senate election. And a look at the map shows that the GOP needs to make a Shermanesque march across the South to have any hope of taking the Senate.ME sm

Barring any unforseen upsets, we can take nine of the 15 Southern races off the board — Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and two in Oklahoma.

In all of those states except Virginia and Georgia, Republican incuments are running again and are likely to win. One of the GOP-held seats in Oklahoma is open but unlikely to turn blue.

In Virginia, Democrat Mark Warner is running and favored, although the entry into the race of former Bush aide and GOP bigwig Ed Gillespie could make it interesting. The seat in Georgia is open, but, given the Peach State’s Republican proclivities, the party’s nominee would be in the driver’s seat.

That leaves five Southern races that will be pivotal — Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia and Kentucky. Democrats hold four of those seats; Republicans, only Kentucky.

If Republicans sweep all five of those seats, they will make a net gain of four seats. That would be enough to take control of the Senate if, as expected, the GOP takes away open Democratic seats in Montana and South Dakota.

But that also means that there is little room for error. Nearly all of the Southern dominoes have to fall the right way. And that’s easier said than done.

Louisiana is perhaps the weakest link for Republicans, who have been trying, and failing, to get Mary Landrieu out of the Senate for the past 18 years. She has proven herself to be the tabby cat of Louisiana politics — and of her nine lives, only three are spent.

North Carolina is also no slam dunk for the GOP, which is trying to defeat freshman Senator Kay Hagan. This is a state, after all, that Barack Obama carried in 2008 and almost carried in 2012, and the place where John Edwards won a Senate seat not that long ago.

In Arkansas, Senator Mark Pryor is in the political fight of his life against U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton. Yet, Pryor holds one of the most storied names in Arkansas political history. And this, remember, is the Land of Clinton, where Democrats still hold most of the statewide offices.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a brutal primary fight with Tea Party favorite Matt Bevin, with Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes waiting in the wings.

Smart money is still on McConnell, mainly because he has a mountain of money and is running in a state Obama lost by more than 20 points. But there is no question he faces a battle for survival.

At the end of the day, Republicans are likely to some of these Southern seats, maybe even most of them. But a complete sweep would seem to be a stretch.

So if they want to take back the Senate, Republicans may need to expand the map.

The best prospects for that are races in Michigan and Iowa, where Democratic incumbents are retiring,  and New Hampshire, where one-time GOP star Scott Brown may cross the border from Masschusetts to take on Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Another possibility is Alaska, where Republicans have high hopes of ousting Democatic Senator Mark Begich.

Virgnia is another possibility, although Democrats could potentially also make Georgia competitive.

Any way you slice it, though, the South is where Senate control will be won or lost — and where the GOP will need the run of a lifetime in 2014.

Analysis: Arkansas voters enter the silly season with Senate ads

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, are both airing warm-and-fuzzy ads that insult the intelligence of Arkansans

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

arkansas mugThe good news for local television viewers in Arkansas is that after months of snippy attack ads, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor and his GOP challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, have finally started going positive in their Senate duel.ME sm

The bad news? Both campaigns have started with a couple of peculiar spots that say very little about either man — but much about how little regard their campaign managers seem to have for the intelligence of Arkansans.

Let’s start with Cotton. Just before Christmas, he aired an ad featuring a moving testimonial from, of all people, his mother.

Really? An endorsement from your mother? I would assume that even my momma, God rest her soul, would say nice things about me if someone pointed a television camera in her direction. But would that tell voters anything about my qualifications to be a U.S. senator? I doubt it.

Cotton’s mother seems like a perfectly delightful lady. But unless she’s endorsing Pryor, her views on the Senate race aren’t particularly illuminating, although I will concede the warm-and-fuzzy Yuletide ads were an improvement over the Pryor-bashing we all saw in previous months.

Not to be outdone in the banality department, Pryor went up with an ad in which he tells voters across the Natural State that the Bible is his “North Star.”

That seems a rather peculiar mixture of religion and astronomy. But it is what he says next that takes the ad straight over into strange: “The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.”

I must have missed that day in Sunday school when we studied what Holy Scripture has to say about political parties. Then again, Senator Pryor is a Southern Baptist, and I’m not, so maybe something has simply been lost in translation.

But does the Bible really teach us that no one has all the answers? Actually, it usually teaches the opposite; namely, that the answers are to be found from the people within its covers, if one looks hard enough.  For God’s sake, a Southern Baptist ought to at least know that.

I suppose the senator’s political handlers thought this ad would burnish his Christian bona fides in a state where such things matter. But anyone who stops to think for a minute what he actually said, as opposed to the ad’s atmospherics, will realize how silly it is.

I’m sure Senator Pryor is a good Christian, and I’m sure Tom Cotton’s momma really loves him a whole, big bunch. Why the voters of Arkansas should care about either of those things, though, is a mystery.

Gentlemen, let us have substance!

Pressure builds on Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr to resign

Democratic Governer Mike Beebe and state’s Republican congressional delegation all call on Darr to step down for violating ethics rules

♦By Rich Shumate,

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK (CFP) — Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr is under increasing pressure to resign, after the state ethics commission fined him $11,000 for misusing campaign funds during his 2010 campaign.

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr

Darr, a Republican, accepted that fine on December 30. But in a letter to the commission, he blamed sloppy record-keeping for the violations, insisting that he never “intentionally took money that didn’t belong to me.”

While Darr has not made any public statements since the ethics committee announced its decision, his attorney told local media that he has no plans to step aside.

But a day after the fines were handed down, Democratic Governor Mike Beebe said it would be “in everybody’s interest, including Mr. Darr, if he resigned.”

Perhaps more ominously for Darr, his fellow Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation — U.S. Senator John Boozman and U.S. Reps. Tom Cotton, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Rick Crawford — issued a very blunt joint statement calling on Darr to go.

“As elected officials, we are keepers of the public trust. We are bound by a very strict code of conduct that is the basis of that trust,” the statement said. “Based on Lt. Gov. Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”

Darr is the second statewide constitutional officer to run into trouble this year. Former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner, a Democrat, resigned after she was indicted for allegedly accepting bribes from a state contractor that were delivered in a pie box. Her trial is set for July.

If Darr resigns, a special election would be held to pick his replacement.

Darr, 40, a restaurant owner from Springdale, had never held elective office before winning the lieutenant governorship in 2010. He based his campaign, in part, on opposition to Obamacare.

In its report, the ethics commission said Darr made personal use of more than $31,000 in campaign funds and charged more than $3,500 of personal expenses on a state-issued credit card. He was also cited for receiving improper reimbursement for nearly $3,600 in travel expenses from his home in Springdale to his office in Little Rock.

He was also cited for mistakes in his campaign finance reports.

The ethics complaint against Darr was filed by Democratic blogger Mark Campbell, first reported in his Blue Hog Report.

After the ethics issues surfaced last summer, Darr abandoned his campaign for the 4th District seat in the U.S. House. He has not announced whether he would seek a second term as lieutenant governor.

Two Republicans, State Reps. Andy Mayberry and Charlie Collins, have announced they are running for lieutenant governor. Democrat John Burkhalter, a state highway commissioner, is also running.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s decision not to seek a third term opens door for Arkansas Democrats

Griffin’s Little Rock-based district is the least Republican in the Natural State

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics editor

arkansas mugLITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CFP) — GOP U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin’s surprise announcement October 21 that he would not seek re-election has given Democrats hope that they might be able to capture his seat after going 0-for-4 in House races in the Natural State in 2012.

Just a day after Griffin stepped aside, former North Little Mayor Pat Hays announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination for the 2nd District seat. The popular Hays served six terms as mayor of North Little Rock, the second-largest city in the district, before retiring in 2012.

In a kickoff speech in front of a senior center named for him, Hays, 66, said he was spurred into running for Congress by the recent government shutdown.

“Sixteen days in October was a travesty,” Hays said. “Real people are affected when you have the kind of action those 16 days gave us.”

Other Democrats are considering the race, including former Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, who dropped out of the 2014 governor’s race this past summer. No Republicans have announced so far.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin

Griffin, a former U.S. Attorney and aide to Karl Rove in the Bush White House, won his seat in the Republican landslide in 2010 and easily won re-election in 2012. His decision not to seek a third term – at a time when he had $500,000 in campaign cash on hand — surprised the Arkansas political establishment.

In a statement announcing his decision, Griffin said he and his wife “have decided that now is the time for me to focus intently on my top priority, my family, as Elizabeth and I raise our two young children.”

The 2nd District includes eight counties in Central Arkansas, including the state’s largest county, Pulaski, which contains Little Rock. While Mitt Romney carried the district in 2012 with 55 percent of the vote, President Obama carried Pulaski County, giving Democrats hope that they might be competitive in the district.

Until Griffin won the seat in 2010, the 2nd District had been traditionally Democratic. For nearly 40 years, it was the home base of the legendary Wilbur Mills, and from 1997 until 2011, it was held by Vic Snyder.

In 2012, Republicans for the first time carried all four of Arkansas’s congressional seats. With Griffin’s departure, two of those seats are now open. The other is the 4th District, in southern and western Arkansas, which is now held by Rep. Tom Cotton, who is giving up the seat to run for the Senate.

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, 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.

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