WASHINGTON — The 2014 Senate race in Arkansas remains a tightly contested battle, according to the latest Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll that found incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor with a small lead.
The survey of 1,068 likely Arkansas voters conducted via automated phone calls April 3-4 gave Pryor a 3-point advantage over Republican rival Rep. Thomas Cotton of Dardanelle. Pryor was favored by 45.5 percent with Cotton backed by 42.5 percent.
Although the lead falls within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, Democrats celebrated the result — noting that it showed Pryor gaining ground despite an avalanche of negative advertising from outside groups.
“Arkansans know and trust Mark Pryor to put Arkansas first, and they haven’t been fooled by Congressman Cotton and his billionaire special interest backers. What this poll does make clear is that Tom Cotton is the most overrated Senate candidate in the country,” said Vincent Insalaco, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Americans for Prosperity and other outside groups have already spent more than $5 million on advertising aimed at defeating Pryor in November. Most of the ads have criticized his support for the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Democrats have spent about $1.5 million against Cotton, claiming he casts “reckless” votes against the interest of Arkansas.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that his chamber’s focus on long-term unemployment insurance, a minimum wage hike and pay equity are proving to resonate with voters. He pointed to the Hendrix poll as a sign that Democrats will retain the Senate majority.
“We feel we are doing OK. If the election were held today we would be fine,” Reid said.
David Ray, a spokesman for Cotton’s campaign, said Democrats shouldn’t get too far ahead of themselves given that Cotton has had the lead in seven of the last 10 publicly released polls.
“We’ve always known this race would be strongly contested. As voters learn more about Sen. Pryor’s record of voting 95 percent with President Obama, they’ll choose to elect a common-sense Arkansas leader like Tom Cotton who will oppose Obamacare and help get America back to work again,” Ray said.
Talk Business & Politics executive editor Roby Brock said the poll results point to a nail-biter in November.
“With more than six months to go, the Senate race is game on. The political environment can certainly change between now and November, but today you have to say nothing is a foregone conclusion,” said Talk Business & Politics executive editor Roby Brock.
Brock expects Democrats and Republicans will continue to pour millions into the campaign as they battle for a shrinking number of undecided voters. The latest poll found only 8 percent remained undecided, down from 17 percent six months ago.
“I foresee a real messaging battle to win small percentages of the electorate as a key for how this race will be decided,” he said.
The latest poll was conducted April 3-4. Hendrix also conducted a poll last October that found Pryor supported by 42 percent and Cotton 41 percent.
Jay Barth, a professor of political science at Hendrix, said the latest survey points to a close race as one candidate’s demographic advantage cancels out the other.
Pryor appears to have an advantage among women voters and minorities while Cotton is stronger among white men. Cotton has a solid lead in the 3rd Congressional District while Pryor has a slight lead in the rest of the state. And, Cotton holds a lead among independent voters but not enough to overcome the Democrat advantage over registered Republicans, he said.