With only 523 days remaining until Election Day 2014, Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas unveiled his first campaign ad yesterday. He didn't have much choice; Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun control group has been blasting his vote to block a background check compromise. Luckily for Pryor, the voters are on his side.
The ads attacking Pryor are from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group founded by Bloomberg and which was one of the ricin-letter recipients earlier this week. MAIG has spent a reported $350,000 on an ad criticizing Pryor's April vote. The vote bucked the Democratic majority, supporting a Republican filibuster of compromise legislation on background checks that was critical to passage of a gun control package.
Pryor's response, paraphrased: Shut up, New Yorkers. And you too, Obama.
From a political standpoint, it's a smart response. Letting negative ads air without countering them could only serve to winnow Pryor's support. The most recent polling for the 2014 race — which, again, is a long way away — indicates that in at least one match-up, Pryor's in trouble.
After the background check vote, Public Policy Polling surveyed voters in a number of states, finding that senators who opposed background checks saw reduced support as a result, particularly among Democrats. That initial round of polling, however, didn't include Pryor. A more recent surveyed, revealed on Wednesday, did. PPP,, which is generally favored by left-leaning organizations, describes its findings: "Mark Pryor's chances for reelection next year would be enhanced if he supported a background check bill when it comes back up in the Senate."
Actually: not really. Yes, it's true that 40 percent of Arkansans would be more likely to support Pryor if he had backed the background check legislation. But 34 percent would have been less likely to, and for 21 percent of voters, it makes no difference.
The more significant finding, however, comes when you break the response down by party. Pryor, a Democrat, needs support from independents and Republicans in order to win the state; in 2012, the state voted for Romney by a 24-point spread. And among those voters, the background check legislation was a distinct liability.
Pryor almost certainly wishes he didn't have to spend so much money so early in this race. But his strategy is sound: contrast his views on gun control with Bloomberg's and Obama's while rebutting an attack that could winnow support from his base. MAIG's goal is to pressure Pryor into changing his vote next time. Pryor's response indicates that he realizes he doesn't have to.