At mid-term, it's Obama vs. Koch 

It is never a tribute to the savvy of voters when an election degenerates into a battle of surrogates or whipping boys, to borrow a great institution from the Tudor kings, who when the prince misbehaved had his best friend cudgeled.

Democracy depends upon the voters not being gulled so easily. But that is what we have in 2014 in Arkansas — and in many other places as well.

If you are a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, or even the state legislature, your opponent is Barack Obama and maybe his evil friends, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Why shouldn't you run against them? Since 2010 they have supplied the angst for many a Republican victory and you won't have Obama for another election after this one.

Democrats have badly needed to find their own stand-ins when the Republican candidates are themselves not quite scary enough. They may have found them in the Koch brothers, David and Charles. It remains to be seen whether the Kochs, who between them are rich enough to run the whole state of Arkansas from their hip pockets for the next 16 years, can be made to be as scary as the black man from Chicago who signed the Affordable Care Act and then killed Osama bin Laden.

Probably not, but they are the best the Democrats have. They are the best that Sen. Mark Pryor has at the moment. If the election were to be decided on political philosophy and the self-interest of voters or even on personality, Pryor would run away with it. His cautious middle-of-the-road stance on just about everything, which dismays liberals and enrages archconservatives, is where most voters think they are. Only the tea-party right agrees with Rep. Tom Cotton's position on much of anything — Social Security, Medicare, the rest of Paul Ryan's spending ideas, foreign policy and warmaking, wages or you name it.

But those are matters about which voters know very little and Pryor and his party have had and will have little success in educating them. Neither the president nor the Democrats in Congress who wrote it or voted for it could explain or convincingly promote the Affordable Care Act, at least with anything like the cleverness, gusto and often deceit of the opposition. So now Pryor will face an electorate hostile to the health reforms that he voted for, although the only 300,000 or so Arkansans directly affected by it so far — those who have won health insurance, most for the first time, or benefited from expanded coverage or benefits — should be grateful to him. But it is safe to say that many, perhaps most, of them won't connect their better fortunes to either Obamacare or Pryor.

So we have a proxy race for the Senate between Barack Obama and the Koch brothers, who with eight months to go have spent $30 million on attack ads against Pryor and the handful of other Democratic senators who are considered vulnerable this year.

Whatever portals you go to on the Internet, you are liable to come across ads warning about Pryor's "lies" or mischief. When you click on them, Barack Obama morphs into the scene. Now you're seeing a few retaliations with the Kochs as the demons.

They actually make pretty persuasive ones, maybe more persuasive than Obama as a surrogate for Pryor. Pryor has been less supportive of the president than any other Democrat in the Senate. The Kochs' $80 billion in personal wealth includes vast holdings in oil, gas, coal, pipelines and manufacturing, including ownership of much of the paper industry in Arkansas and across the country. The price for owning pivotal congressional seats and legislative factions in states like Arkansas, where their interests are so manifestly subject to pollution regulation and taxation, is trivial compared with the benefits. Despite throwing tens of millions of dollars at defeating Democrats in 2012, Charles Koch added $6 billion to his net worth that year, according to Forbes.

Political bogeymen are nothing new. Al Smith and John F. Kennedy had to run with the pope as their proxy. Sen. Dale Bumpers' opponents, Asa Hutchinson and Mike Huckabee, regularly accused him of voting with Sen. Ted Kennedy, so widely despised in the South, 96 or 98 percent of the time.

They're absolutely wrong, Bumpers would reply. "Kennedy votes with me 98 percent of the time." He was going to have a stern talk with Kennedy about leaving the traces that 2 per cent.

Humor doesn't work in this climate, and Pryor doesn't have the Bumpers touch anyway. Who does?

Speaking of Mark Pryor, Koch Brothers

  • The Gilbert Baker Is a Slimeball Edition

    August 1, 2014
    New political polls, Gilbert Baker and newly released ethics commission investigative files on campaign contributions to Mike Maggio, the hypocrisy of Big River Steel’s John Correnti, the LRPD’s move to encrypt its radio broadcasts, a Little Rock City Board proposal to rollback closing time for private clubs and the Little Rock Planning Commission once again going against professional staff recommendations — all covered on this week's edition. /more/
  • Polling the alcohol question — and the U.S. Senate race

    July 31, 2014
    New polling from the campaign to legalize alcohol sales in all 75 Arkansas counties shows support for the measure and, in an added question, a two-point lead for Mark Pryor in the race for U.S. Senate. /more/
  • Standing invitation to Tom Cotton

    July 30, 2014
    As the campaign teams of incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor and challenger Rep. Tom Cotton continue the tedious election cycle tradition of debating over the format of debates, the Times continues its offer to have Cotton and Pryor join our unedited, free-form weekly podcasts. /more/
  • The Cotton-Pryor open line: New polling gives slight edge to Cotton; Cotton called down again

    July 29, 2014
    The open line includes a new poll in the Pryor-Cotton race for U.S. Senate (Cotton is up 2 points, a virtual dead heat) and another fact-check in which a Cotton TV ad has been found "mostly false." /more/
  • Pryor campaign: Cotton fronting for insurance industry

    July 26, 2014
    Pryor campaign response to straw man Obamacare ad is that Tom Cotton is a tool of the insurance industry. Maybe a reporter with an invite to his news conferences could ask him about that. /more/
  • The Mystery of Tom Cotton Edition

    July 25, 2014
    Arkansas Times Senior Editor Max Brantley and Editor Lindsey Millar talk about Tom Cotton and the latest in election news, the fight over public schools and broadband, talk of toll roads along I-40, a legal claim that could keep votes on alcohol and the minimum wage off the ballot and the state Republican Party embracing D.C. politics — all covered on this week's edition. /more/
  • Pryor proposes jobs legislation

    July 25, 2014
    U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor has proposed legislation to encourage U.S. job creation. /more/
  • The Pryor-Cotton debate open line

    July 24, 2014
    The open line includes our daily video news roundup as well as the Arkansas Times Weekly Podcast challenge for Senate candidates Tom Cotton and Mark Pryor. So far, no response from Cotton and a tentative positive response from Mark Pryor to our invitation to both men to chat one Friday afternoon — together preferably but also singly — before Nov. 4. /more/
  • Pryor campaign: Tom Cotton claims credit for farm aid he voted against

    July 23, 2014
    Republican Rep. Tom Cotton praised federal aid for flood-damaged farmers and ranchers, but didn't mention he'd voted against the legislation that provided the aid. The Pryor campaign did. /more/
  • The debate debate in the U.S. Senate race

    July 21, 2014
    Now Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor is playing the debate game after weeks of it by Republican opponent Tom Cotton. If Cotton is so all-fired willing to debate Pryor, how come he hasn't agreed to two appearances Pryor has accepted? /more/
  • More »


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