How The Senate Is Shaping Up

Tom Cotton

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor is defending his seat against Republican Congressman Tom Cotton. Pryor has been doing surprisingly well as of late:

It’s impossible to say for sure why the race has turned around, or whether the trend will last. But it’s noteworthy that recently, the Pryor campaign has been aggressively advertising on just two issues: Medicare and Social Security.

Cotton “voted to raise the age to Medicare for 70,” one narrator intones. “Cotton would raise Medicare and Social Security to 70. Look it up! He’s a real threat to your retirement,” says an older woman named Linda. In another ad, Pryor himself says he wrote a bill to “stop politicians from destroying Medicare,” and helpfully adds, “My opponent voted to withhold benefits until age 70. And I’m trying to stop that.” The Pryor campaign has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars airing these ads in the past month.

Attacks against Republicans for supporting Paul Ryan’s budget are nothing new. Yet the most damaging claim here is that Cotton supports raising the beneficiary age to 70 — something Ryan’s budget specifically avoided doing. (It raises the Medicare age only to 67, and doesn’t even touch Social Security.)

But Charlie Cook sees Cotton’s farm bill vote as more signifiant:

My hunch is that a lot of people got a little ahead of their skis in pronouncing Pryor dead, but I also suspect that Cotton’s Jan. 29 vote against the farm bill—he was one of 63 House Republicans, mostly very conservative members, who voted against it, while 162 Republicans voted for it—had something to do with this. Among House Democrats, 89 voted for passage of the farm bill, 103—mostly pretty liberal members from urban districts and unhappy over food-stamp cuts—voted against it. No Republicans in Alabama, Iowa, Mississippi, or Missouri voted against the bill, and some of those folks are pretty conservative.

Although Cotton unquestionably has deeply held conservative principles that persuaded him to vote against the farm bill, it sure wasn’t politically expedient for the Senate candidate to vote in opposition. My hunch is that there is a lot of head-scratching over that vote among farmers and folks in rural and small-town Arkansas.

Nevertheless, The Monkey Cage’s model still gives the GOP a 77% chance of a Senate takeover:

Our earliest forecast showed that Republicans were already heavily favored due to the national landscape and the partisan complexion of the states holding Senate elections this year. We then showed that incorporating a measure of the “quality” of the candidates — prior experience in elective office — made things even more favorable to Republicans. Chris Cillizza and I discussed that forecast here. As we would expect, Republicans are recruiting and nominating relatively experienced and therefore more electable candidates.

Now, with fundraising in the model, the results are marginally more favorable to Democrats, but not by much.  This means that Democrats are mustering some advantages in fundraising, but not particularly large ones.