Arkansas lieutenant governor Mark Darr is planning to jump in the state's Senate race against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, according to a GOP source familiar with his plans, giving the Republicans their first challenger against one of the party's top 2014 targets.
Darr intends to officially enter the race in April, after the state legislative session ends. He was elected lieutenant governor in 2010, prevailing by a narrow two-point margin. That race was his first foray into politics; Darr owned a chain of restaurants before running for office. He's from northwest Arkansas, the biggest Republican stronghold in the state.
Darr, despite his statewide profile, faces significant hurdles in getting the nomination. Several Arkansas Republican operatives are skeptical that he'll be able to raise enough money to mount a full-fledged campaign against Pryor. Darr doesn't have a legislative record to run on, and the lieutenant governor position in Arkansas is more symbolic than substantive.
Meanwhile, freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, a decorated Army veteran who served in Iraq, is being wooed for the Senate race and would be formidable primary opponent if he ran. Cotton, though, was just elected to the House and hasn't run statewide before. If Cotton doesn't run, there aren't many other obvious candidates: Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., took himself out of the running last month. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., is another possible candidate, but his recent appointment to a defense appropriations subcommittee makes it less likely he mounts a campaign.
Pryor is one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election, running in a state that gave President Obama just 37 percent of the vote. The president's gun control push is a vulnerability he'll need to overcome, as well. But the Pryor name is still very popular in the state. His father, David, served as a longtime congressman, governor and senator in Arkansas, and he's expected to play an active role on the campaign trail for his son's re-election.
"He's in better shape than Blanche Lincoln was in 2010," one Arkansas GOP operative said. That's not saying much, but it also means the quality of the challenger's campaign will matter a lot.
"As Kim and I have prayerfully considered our future, we are continually troubled by Barack Obama's policies for America," Darr responded in a statement to Hotline On Call. "America is headed in the wrong direction, and we must alter our course... I believe that I can assist greatly in being a check and balance to Barack Obama's liberal policies.”
"As Lieutenant Governor, I will give my undivided attention to my duties in the Arkansas Senate until the end of the 89th General Assembly," he said.
Jordain Carney contributed to this report
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