By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK Ark. (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton returned to Arkansas on Monday for two days of rallies aimed at energizing Democratic voters in state political races including a U.S. Senate contest seen as crucial to maintaining the party's control of that chamber.
Arkansas is in the sights of the Republican Party, which is trying to capture the Senate by unseating incumbent Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Republicans are also looking to win back the governorship. Democratic Governor Mike Beebe cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
"Don't vote for what you should be against, vote for what you know you should be for," Clinton, a long-serving governor of the state, told an outdoor audience at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, north of Little Rock.
Pryor has been attacked by Republicans for his support of President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state, and voting for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, also highly unpopular.
"The GOP strategy is to run against Obama," said Hal Bass, a professor of political science at Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia, Arkansas. "The Democrats are trying to make the races less national and more 'Arkan-centric.'"
Three other events with Clinton, often called the "Big Dog" in his home state, were scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, two of them on university campuses and one on the edge of the Arkansas delta, where Democrats hope to maximize turnout among black voters.
"Clinton's visit will mobilize voters more than it will produce converts," Bass said.
Clinton, who served as president from 1993 to 2001, remains very popular among Democrats.
The Republicans have also brought in big names, including the party's 2012 U.S. presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, to rally support. Romney won Arkansas by 24 percentage points in the 2012 presidential race with Obama.
Clinton casts a long shadow in Arkansas, with his influence seen in the governor's race to pick a successor for Beebe, a Democrat.
Former U.S. Representative Mike Ross, a former Clinton campaign aide, is running against former Republican U.S. Representative Asa Hutchinson, who helped prosecute the impeachment case against Clinton in 1998 and 1999.
With a month remaining before the election, polls in Arkansas have shown the Republican candidates leading, but within or near the margin of error. Advertising spending in the races for Senate and the governorship has already set records.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)