A Roll in the Hay?
   by Gene Lyons

      What does Karl Rove know that Arkansas Democrats don't know?
According to a now famous Power Point presentation on a computer
diskette found lying on a Washington street corner, the White House
expects Sen. Tim Hutchinson to lose his 2002 re-election bid to Arkansas
Attorney General Mark Pryor. The White House has done its best to paste
a smiley face over the incident, but it's all there in red and blue. Drawn for
Republican eyes only, Rove's "Map of theStrategic Landscape" colors
Arkansas blue to indicate a "strongchance of a Democratic pickup."

      What that tells you is that both parties' inside polls likely show Pryor
leading or deadlocked with an incumbent Senator whose re-elect numbers
remain below fifty percent. This comes as news to liberal Democrats, who
have been complaining about what they see as Pryor's lackluster campaign,
not to mention his flirtation with the religious right. I've even heard discreet
bitching about the whole issue of primogeniture in American politics: i.e.
how can Arkansas Democrats make sport of President Junior while
whooping it up for Senator Junior?

      But nobody ought ought to be disqualified simply on account of who
his daddy is. Besides, some politicians' sons are more junior than others.
A historian might recall that the elder Pryor was himself dismissed as
an amiable dunce by the Hillcrest Smart Set on his way to becoming
Arkansas' most universally respected political figure. A realist would
simply point out that Mark Pryor sought and won the Democratic
nomination the old-fashioned way. Also, unlike George W.Bush, there's
no way he gets in without winning more votes. So unless you're prepared
to abide six more years of Hutchinson's right-wing voting record, not to
mention an increased likelihood of GOP control of the U.S. Senate,
then Mark Pryor is what you've got.

      Less remarked upon locally was that Rove's analysis of Arkansas
House races also gives GOP candidates no chance to defeat incumbent
Democrats. It appears that the main effect of Tommy Robinson's quixotic
run against Marion Berry in the First District, and Jay Dickey's against
Mike Ross in the Fourth will be to increase turnout, particularly among
African-American voters inclined to punish Hutchinson for his vote to
remove President Clinton. As gratifying as it would be to see Two-Gun
Tommy lose yet again, it would be even more satisfying if he helped
beat Hutchinson in the process.

      As for the liberals, chances are they'll be back in the Pryor fold
along about Labor Day when Arkansas political campaigns traditionally
heat up. For now, the best thing the Democratic candidate has done has
been his refusal to match either the volume or the negative tone of
Hutchinson's barrage of TV commercials. No point blowing your campaign
funds six months before election day responding to character attacks by
an opponent widely suspected of having none.

      Also noteworthy has been the Pryor team's nimble response to GOP
charges. Take the recent flap over a TV ad scolding Pryor for attending
a Democratic fund raiser in Washington. "If he's a conservative," taunted
the narrator "why is he with liberal Ted Kennedy?" Although Hutchinson's
allies in the local press buried it deep in the story, Pryor's response was
decisive. If  Kennedy's so bad, asked campaign spokesman Michael Teague,
howcome he and Hutchinson co-sponsored 130 bills over the past six years?

      Even Pryor's saccharine commercials are working for him. Sure they
resemble a pitch for Hanke Brothers Siding or promos for a remake of
"Father Knows Best." But edgy ain't Arkansas; cornball is. All that
stuff about reading the family Bible to the kids and having Mrs. Pryor
tell us what a tightwad her husband is innoculates him against
Republicans' efforts to identify him with the cultural left. Besides,
they're pretty much who Mark Pryor is: a communicant at Little Rock's
Fellowship Bible Church who sends his kids to private schools, the very
things that make liberals suspicious.

      Now me, I'd have Mark standing and David sitting whenever father
and son are on camera together, instead of the other way around. But the
cornball TV ads also serve to emphasize the single biggest issue in the
Senate race, the one nobody but rude newspaper columnists wants to talk
about: That would be Hutchinson's divorce and re-marriage to a much
younger member of his Senate staff soon after voting to impeach Bill Clinton.
How can any Arkansas voter watch that Hutchinson TV ad with the
cute grandson without wondering where grandma went?

      A Baptist preacher, Hutchinson didn't merely cast the first stone
at Bill Clinton's sin, he and the rest of the GOP Pharisees dragged
whole tote sack of stones onto the floor of the U.S. Senate. "Let's
roll," Hutchinson urged at a recent campaign rally. A nasty little
voice in my ear whispered, "In the hay, Senator?"

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