Americans Crossroads is beginning a major ad buy in Arkansas on Tuesday, spending nearly a half-million dollars on a new TV spot that tells viewers Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor votes just like President Obama.
And just as the Karl Rove-linked super PAC hits the airwaves, it's also releasing an internal poll of its own showing the GOP nominee, Rep. Tom Cotton, with a comfortable 5-point lead over the two-term Democratic incumbent among likely voters. The GOP survey reports the president's approval ratings hovering in the mid-30s — a dangerous level of support for any candidate running in the same party.
Collectively, the actions look like an attempt to reassure nervous supporters that Cotton is a clear-cut favorite to win in November after a rocky couple of months for his campaign. Once the GOP's most celebrated recruit of 2014, Cotton has watched a string of public polls this spring show Pryor unexpectedly holding the lead — one by as many as 11 points. Although outwardly still confident, the Republican's aides began acknowledging they had made mistakes in the race's early going.
But Cotton still has the advantage of running in a deeply red state and with the help of well-funded outside group allies, who have already spent millions aiding his candidacy. The latest ad, a $440,000 buy spread over one week, revisits an old theme of the campaign: Pryor votes just like the unpopular Obama.
In the spot, a grade-schooler is asked to spell "Pryor" in a kind of mock spelling bee. The child responds by spelling out "O-B-A-M-A," and the judges rule that she was "close enough." (The Scripps National Spelling Bee was held last week.)
Crossroads' survey found Obama's approval rating underwater, with 35 percent approving and 62 percent disapproving of his performance. It showed Pryor with a stronger favorability among voters — 45 percent approving, 36 percent disapproving versus 40 percent to 36 percent for Cotton — but a generic Republican candidate with a 5-point edge over Pryor, 45 percent to 40 percent.
The poll, conducted from May 27 to May 29 by Public Opinion Strategies, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.39 percentage points. It surveyed 500 likely voters by landline and cell phone.
In the head-to-head matchup, Cotton leads 46 percent to 41 percent, with 7 percent undecided.
"Forty-one percent is a perilous place for an incumbent to find himself, and Mark Pryor is a serious underdog to Tom Cotton in this race," the polling memo from POS read.
The poll also found Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson leading Democrat Mike Ross 48 percent to 42 percent.