The 2014 election is already underway.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor sent a letter to close friends that said he would indeed be on the ballot again, rather than retire, run for governor, go to seminary or any other rumored new careers. His announcement roughly coincided with his vote, alone among Senate Democrats, to support a filibuster on the "Buffett rule," a proposal by President Obama to tap millionaires for higher taxes.
Abuse of Pryor from the Democratic base was instant. Pryor's defense:
"There is no disputing that the wealthy should pay their fair share in taxes. This inequity should be fixed as part of broad tax reform, not as a political ploy meant to score points."
The Democratic base dismissed this as blather. Critics had a point in saying the Republicans aren't a likely source of bipartisan support for any tax.
Pryor had ground to make his case. He once spoke warmly of the Simpson-Boles financial plan, which had critics on both sides of the aisle and which the president decided not to pursue. He's been a player in bipartisan legislation. He worked to preserve the filibuster — aggravating unless you're in the minority — but still preserve the judicial nomination process.
The Buffett rule vote was only for show, as Pryor indicated. His vote was meaningless. Democrats didn't have the needed 60 votes with him. It was meant to score political points with the solid majority of votes who want higher taxes for millionaires. Republicans do this sort of thing all the time.
Pryor thinks voters — swing voters, at least — are tired of posturing. Will such moderation attract swing voters? It seems idealistic in hyper-partisan times. But — given that he gains nothing from either side in the Buffett vote — it is possible he might be sincere.
Pryor finds himself as Sen. Blanche Lincoln did two years ago: Undistinguished general approval ratings, a linkage by party to a president hugely unpopular in Arkansas and a voting record that, at times, diverges from Democratic base leanings. Lincoln barely survived a primary challenge from the left and was tromped in the general election. Pryor, whose fundamental personal decency is similar to that of Lincoln, is at similar risk.
As with Lincoln, I'm reluctant to pile on. Whatever you might say about Mark Pryor's record, it's dramatically better than that of any Republican, either Lincoln's successor, Sen. John Boozman, or wannabe senator, Rep. Tim Griffin.
Pryor also is due sympathy for the thanks he's gotten from the Obama administration for tough supporting votes on the likes of health care reform, Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, stimulus legislation, Wall Street reform, Supreme Court nominees and more.
Pryor has gotten less than nothing. Obama has delayed Arkansas judicial nominations. When Arkansas qualified for federal money for the Bayou Meto and Grand Prairie water projects, the Obama administration overrode the Corps of Engineers and sent the money to Republican-dominated Tennessee and Mississippi. The potential loss of trout hatchery funding in Arkansas isn't an interagency technical debate, but another case of the Obama administration, in a time of Republican-constricted budgeting, favoring vote-rich urban areas over rural areas or red states generally. See farm subsidies. See loss of A-10 planes for the National Guard at Fort Smith and a cut in planned enhancements of the C-130 mission at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Given all this, I'm not ready to hang Mark Pryor for breaking with Obama on a tax vote meaningful mostly as a talking point. But the Blanche Lincoln example offers scant comfort that a stand on principle by Pryor will earn appreciation from voters.