Today, at the University of Central Arkansas, four candidates sought to convince the voters of the Natural State why they deserve to be elected to the United States Senate. The debate lasted some 90 minutes.
The following is my analysis of how the top two contenders fared.
Mark Pryor: It’s no secret that the senator's political ship is starting to sail. As a result, he needs to turn in two solid debate performances this week to give himself some momentum heading into November. And in fairness, he did certain things well today. What was striking to me, for example, was the way Pryor framed the debate. He painted his opponent not as an extremist or an obstructionist (as Democrats tend to do) but as a candidate who is actuated by self-interest and ambition. He argued Cotton would “do anything” and “say anything” to get elected. Toward the end of the debate, he even went as far as to claim that “Cotton thinks he’s entitled to be in the Senate” -- echoing earlier (more cringe-inducing) pronouncements he’s made in the past.
For obvious reasons, this line of criticism is likely to fall flat:
Mark Pryor, scion of privilege & heir to a powerful political surname, *again* calls combat veteran Tom Cotton "entitled." #ARSen— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) October 13, 2014
Be that as it may, Pryor hammered Cotton for voting against the farm bill (although Cotton’s response as to why he didn't was excellent) and accused him of cozying up to billionaires and special interest groups. Somewhat surprisingly, he also had the most memorable line of the day.
“You don’t have the reputation, the ability, or the desire to walk across the aisle and get things done in Washington,” Pryor straight-up told his Republican challenger. Ouch.
Tom Cotton: The first-term congressman was the most polished and comfortable candidate on stage today. He made three major points. First, he repeated ad nauseam that Mark Pryor voted with Barack Obama “93 percent” of the time. He made this point virtually every time he spoke (and Pryor eventually called him out for it). Second, he argued Mark Pryor was a “rubber stamp” for the president, warning Arkansans that if his opponent is re-elected, he would continue to vote in lock-step with Congressional Democrats. Third, he incorporated painful stories from the campaign trail into his talking points about how Obamacare is hurting Arkansas' families and small businesses. This was quite effective.
On the whole, though, the debate was a wash. Both candidates had some good one-liners and no overt gaffes (the “entitled” comment notwithstanding). Take, for example, Cotton’s best line of the day. Listen closely as he talks about the differences between Washington leadership and real leadership:
Since the debate aired on a Monday in the middle of the afternoon, I’m not sure how many Arkansans tuned it. But the good news is it will re-air tonight on public television -- and there is another debate tomorrow.
This time, however, there will only be two candidates on stage. Let the games begin.