Under Fire Over Obamacare, Arkansas Senator Changes the Subject

Mark Pryor attacks his Republican challenger over Medicare and Social Security, a tactic likely to be adopted by other Democrats.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., center, speaks with Col. Wally Walter, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, left, and Col. Don Wilhite with the United State Air Force, right, during a National Prayer Breakfast, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007, at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Ark. (AP Photo/Mike Wintroath)  
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Nov. 13, 2013, 7:17 a.m.

Squeezed by Obama­care and an un­pop­u­lar pres­id­ent, Sen. Mark Pry­or is turn­ing to the Demo­crat­ic Party’s most tried-and-true talk­ing points in his fight to win reelec­tion: Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity.

The Arkan­sas Demo­crat re­leased a new ad Wed­nes­day that as­sails his pre­sumptive Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ent, Rep. Tom Cot­ton, for sup­port­ing cuts to the two en­ti­tle­ments. The ad, de­scribed as hav­ing “sub­stan­tial statewide cov­er­age” on air, con­trasts that re­cord with Pry­or’s. The in­cum­bent Demo­crat, the spot says, wants to cut waste but is also try­ing to make both pro­grams stronger. “I sup­port this mes­sage be­cause cut­ting waste and fraud is re­spons­ible, but cut­ting be­ne­fits isn’t,” Pry­or says at the end of the ad.

A source close to the Pry­or cam­paign said Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity are a “ma­jor point of con­trast in this race go­ing for­ward.” The same could be said of most Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns. Many of the party’s strategists still con­sider a mes­sage por­tray­ing Re­pub­lic­ans as en­ti­tle­ment cut­ters is highly ef­fect­ive, es­pe­cially dur­ing a time of eco­nom­ic un­cer­tainty. Middle-class voters, they say, con­sider them cent­ral to their per­son­al fin­an­cial se­cur­ity.

And in a deeply-con­ser­vat­ive state like Arkan­sas, So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care are two of the rare is­sues fa­vor­able to a Demo­crat law­maker; even con­ser­vat­ives vehe­mently op­pose cuts to the pro­grams, ac­cord­ing to polls. If Pry­or can shift the de­bate to those is­sues, and away from Pres­id­ent Obama and his health care law, it would be a ma­jor suc­cess.

In the last sev­er­al elec­tions, the en­ti­tle­ment de­bate has fo­cused on Medi­care. But Cot­ton’s vote earli­er this year for a budget that in­cluded “chained CPI” pro­vi­sions to re­duce pay­ment to be­ne­fi­ciar­ies has also left him vul­ner­able to at­tacks over So­cial Se­cur­ity.

Cot­ton’s cam­paign re­spon­ded that the ad’s fo­cus shows Pry­or’s reelec­tion ef­fort is already des­per­ate.

“Sen­at­or Pry­or is already throw­ing a last-minute Hail Mary pass, and the elec­tion is still 12 months away. Sen­at­or Pry­or must be scared to death that his votes for Obama­care make his reelec­tion im­possible,” said Cot­ton spokes­man Dav­id Ray.

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