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Whither Pryor?

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It is generally conceded that President Obama will not carry Arkansas in this year's presidential election. A more difficult question, still vigorously debated, is whether Obama will carry Mark Pryor.

Senator Pryor is and always has been at least nominally a Democrat, if not much more than nominal. Those who believe Obama will capture the Pryor vote dwell on this history, and on Pryor's family ties, as the son of a Democratic governor and senator who once held the seat that is now Mark's, and whose party loyalty was reasonably reliable.

But Mark is more conservative than his father, perhaps even a shade more politically cautious than a man who was not a large political risk-taker himself. Obama lost Arkansas (and other Southern states) in 2008, and almost certainly will again. One other ostensibly Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has already announced he may vote for the Republican presidential nominee. Pryors have always been known for their ability to decipher messages on walls. Pryor's friend and former Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut supported Obama's opponent in the last presidential election. Lieberman became an independent after he was defeated in a Connecticut Democratic primary. Pryor and other weakly Democratic senators then contributed money to help Lieberman defeat their own party's nominee in the general election, Republican votes putting Lieberman over the top. It might be said that Pryor admires Lieberman, though that is a hard thing to say of any man. Most recently, Pryor was the only Democratic senator to vote against the Buffet rule, an Obama-backed measure that would require the very wealthy to pay a fairer share of taxes. As between unrich Americans and super-rich Koch brothers, Pryor took the Kochs.

Things have been going very well for the super-rich lately. This is not unprecedented, we admit. While Pryor was in Washington battling for the upper one percent, back in Little Rock the state Education Department was busting up the teachers union and the support-staff union in the Pulaski County School District, as cheers erupted in board rooms and country clubs across the state. Unions can win higher wages for their members. Big money is committed to keeping Arkansas a low-wage state, like Mexico or Burma, and is very effective in doing so. The Pulaski County School District unions were among a handful left in Arkansas that could deliver meaningful benefits for their members. Over in Conway, the Chamber of Commerce rented a couple of U.S. representatives, Tim Griffin and Mike Ross, to voice opposition to a proposed increase in the severance tax. Corporate interests don't like higher taxes any more than they like higher wages, or Democratic presidential nominees. Sen. Pryor may well hear of their concerns. Since Snyder, Berry and Lincoln left, Pryor has held the undisputed title of "least bad" among the Arkansas congressional delegation. But that won't buy TV time in the next election year.

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