Sen. Mark Pryor (D)
Elected: 2002, term expires 2014, 2nd term.
Born: Jan. 10, 1963, Fayetteville .
Home: Little Rock.
Education: U. of AR, B.A. 1985, J.D. 1988.
Family: Married (Jill); 2 children.
Elected office: AR House of Reps., 1990-94; AR atty. gen., 1998-02.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1988-96.
Mark Pryor, the Democratic junior senator from Arkansas elected in 2002, is among the state’s most popular politicians. He was the only U.S. senator in 2008 who did not draw a major-party challenge to his re-election, and he coasted to a second term with more than 79% of the vote. Pryor is the son of former Democratic Sen. David Pryor and is one of five children of former senators now serving in the Senate. (The others are Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Robert Bennett of Utah, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.) Mark Pryor grew up in southern Arkansas, the Washington area and Little Rock, the latest in several generations of politically active Pryors in Arkansas. His grandmother, Susie Newton Pryor, was the first woman in Arkansas to run for office after women won the right to vote. His father was elected to the U.S. House in 1966, elected governor in 1974, and then senator in 1978. Mark Pryor graduated from the University of Arkansas and its law school in the 1980s. He practiced law in Little Rock and was elected to the Arkansas House in 1990 and 1992. He became the state attorney general at age 35, the youngest attorney general in the nation (but not in Arkansas history: Bill Clinton won the office at 30). In 1995, he was diagnosed with clear-cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. He underwent tendon transplant surgery in his left heel in 1996; the cancer has not returned.
|Mark Pryor (D)||804,678||(80%)||($3,284,632)|
|Rebekah Kennedy (Green)||207,076||(20%)||($13,392)|
|Mark Pryor (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (54%)
As attorney general, Pryor implemented the state’s “Do Not Call Registry.” He also pushed for legislation to increase penalties for nursing home accidents and to strengthen background checks for long-term care employees. He worked to reduce utility rates and to remove unsafe baby products from day care centers. In July 2001, Pryor announced that he would run against Sen. Tim Hutchinson, the first Republican to win an Arkansas Senate seat since 1879. A Baptist minister, radio station owner and founder of a Christian school in Rogers, Hutchinson represented that conservative area in the Legislature from 1984 and then for two terms as 3rd District representative in the House. Hutchinson’s conservative voting record would ordinarily have made him a favorite for re-election. But in June 1999, Hutchinson filed for divorce from his wife of 29 years, and in August 2000, he married a former member of his staff. For some senators, this would not have hurt politically. But for a Christian conservative, who criticized President Clinton strongly during the impeachment crisis, it was a handicap.
Pryor never mentioned Hutchinson’s divorce and remarriage, but a recurrent theme in his campaign was “Tim Hutchinson has changed”—even though Hutchinson’s positions on issues had not changed much, if at all. However, one of Pryor’s earlier positions had changed, rather dramatically. Running for attorney general in 1998, Pryor had called himself a “pro-choice” candidate. But in the Senate contest, he emphasized his belief that abortion was wrong except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. He avoided saying whether or not the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion should be overturned. Pryor also campaigned on his support for gun rights, increased military spending, and for the Iraq war resolution. He accused Hutchinson of working for special interests, especially the pharmaceutical companies, and for supporting plans that would risk Social Security benefits. Pryor called Hutchinson “way too conservative” for Arkansas.
Pryor’s ads were some of the most artful of the 2002 cycle. One showed him, his wife and their two children saying grace before a meal. Then Pryor, holding a Bible, said, “The most important lessons in life are in this book right here.” The Pryors belonged to an evangelical church in Little Rock and sent their children to a private Christian school. He turned down an invitation to appear with Hutchinson on the Meet the Press news program, explaining that voters wouldn’t be able to watch “because they’re in church Sunday morning.” Another ad invoked the name of his politically popular father. “You know me as Arkansas Attorney General, but I’m also my father’s son,” Pryor says in the spot. Hutchinson’s ads were pedestrian by contrast. President Bush made visits to Arkansas to campaign for him, but the strategy did not succeed in nationalizing the race. Pryor pulled ahead in polls in mid-year and never really fell behind. He won 54%-46%, a solid victory in a year when Democrats lost their majority in the Senate. A survey by pollster John Zogby showed that 12% said Hutchinson’s divorce affected their vote—enough by itself to explain his drop from 53% in 1996 to 46% in 2002. Hutchinson’s losses were particularly great in his home area. In 1996, he had won 65%-35% in the 3rd Congressional District; in 2002, he carried the district by 56%-44%.
In the Senate, Pryor established a conservative voting record for a Democrat. He backed Bush on efforts to weaken Clinton-era environmental controls (although he later voted against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). In March 2003 he voted for the ban on partial-birth abortion and supported an amendment, which failed, granting an exception if the mother’s physical health was at risk. He also voted against a resolution supporting Roe v. Wade, and in 2006, Pryor voted with Republicans for a bill that would make it a crime to help a minor avoid parental notification laws by traveling to another state for an abortion. He voted against a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages, saying the issue should be left to the states, and then supported a state ballot measure in 2004 banning same-sex marriage in Arkansas.
In 2003, Pryor voted against the omnibus appropriations bill that contained $300 million for Arkansas projects and against the $350 billion Bush tax cut. “I just can’t support these budgets that send our deficits and national debt soaring out of control,” he said. He’ll have greater opportunities to rein in spending now that he is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, an appointment he secured in early 2009.
The crowning achievement of Pryor’s first term was a bill imposing sweeping changes on the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Passed in 2008, the legislation mandated that products be tested by independent laboratories, restricted levels of lead allowed in children’s toys, and increased the budget for consumer safety to $105 million from $80 million. His success with that legislation, and his position as chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, gave Pryor a leading role in the Obama administration’s efforts to add teeth to the federal regulation of financial markets in the aftermath of the major company failures in 2008 that rocked the economy. Pryor also was poised to be a player on energy policy in the 111th Congress (2009-10). He and a group of nine other senators from both major parties began meeting in 2008 to come up with proposals for moving the United States away from its reliance on oil-based energy. The economic crisis at the end of the year interrupted the group’s work. Pryor has also advocated stronger parental controls for the Internet, and has encouraged movie rental chains and retailers to put up signs warning parents about the content of video games.
Pryor prides himself on his ability to work across party lines. “I’ve checked my party label at the door, and it works,” he said in a 2008 interview. He has led successful efforts on legislation to prevent price gouging in the oil supply chain, to make the national “Do Not Call” list permanent, and to require employers to use the federal e-verify system to curb hiring of illegal immigrants.
His centrist voting record has put him in the center of the several high-profile debates. While Pryor opposed Bush’s troop “surge” plan to send more combat troops to Iraq, he also opposed a Democratic resolution in 2007 setting a public timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. (He said he favors a deadline but that the timetable should remain classified to prevent terrorists from using it as a planning tool.) In 2005, he was one of the “Gang of 14” senators that brokered the compromise that allowed Bush’s judicial nominees to advance through the process while preventing GOP leaders from taking away the Democratic minority’s right to filibuster nominees. In 2006, he voted to allow the nomination of the Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to advance, but then voted against his confirmation.
Republicans initially planned to target Pryor in 2008, when he was up for re-election for the first time, but they failed to field a prominent candidate to take him on. Their strongest challenger would have been Mike Huckabee, the former 10-year Republican governor, and Huckabee had been encouraged by some Republicans to drop his 2008 presidential bid and run against Pryor. He declined. Meanwhile, Pryor built a $5.5 million war chest. His only opponent was Green Party candidate Rebekah Kennedy, a 30-year-old Quitman attorney with no political experience. He barely campaigned and was easily re-elected.