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Common ground 

WASHINGTON — For someone so politically impregnable he faces no major party opposition for re-election, it's surprisingly easy to find negative comments on the Internet about Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor.

They come largely from liberal Democrats, many critical of his votes in his first six-year term on national security, judicial appointments and a smattering of other matters.

While he supports the Democratic line on most issues, Pryor is not afraid to tack right, if, as he says, he believes it's the right thing to do.

Pryor says it's all in keeping with the pledge he made when he first ran for the Senate in 2002 “to find common ground [with the other party] and be a voice of reason.”

Pryor's willingness to offend the liberal wing of his party goes down as one of the notable elements of his first term. It illustrates how he put together a voting record that scared Republicans away from opposing him, political analysts say. And it serves as a blueprint of how a Democrat can cater to a Southern constituency.

The latest example: proposed changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would give giant phone companies immunity from being sued for assistance in eavesdropping and wiretapping that they gave the government over the last seven years in the war on terror.

Pryor supports granting such immunity, while more liberal senators such as Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and Hillary Clinton of New York, as well as scores of liberal bloggers and interest groups, did not.

He was one of only 18 Democrats to vote for an attempt at FISA changes earlier this year. Pryor voted against the majority of Democrats again on July 9 when the Senate took up the issue once more and passed the controversial amendments.

For Pryor, it's the kind of stance that sends self-proclaimed progressives and civil liberties advocates, as well as some interest groups, howling.

“It's disappointing,” said Rita Sklar, executive director of the Arkansas affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU and ACORN are also disappointed with Pryor for not supporting a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, although he once indicated he would.

Overall, Pryor's record on ACORN's concerns is “mixed,” at best, said Maxine Nelson, Arkansas president of the grassroots lobby for low-income people.

When Pryor voted for FISA amendments earlier this year, the website progressivepatriots.com said “Senator Mark Pryor abandoned moderation and liberty to embrace the prerogatives of arbitrary authority.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based group, contends lawsuits against phone companies are needed to establish the kind of legal precedents necessary to protect Americans in the future against unwarranted invasions of privacy.

Some of these sources still haven't forgiven Pryor for his vote last year in support of changes in the Patriot Act wanted by the Bush administration. Or his support of some of Bush's most controversial judicial and cabinet appointments, such as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

At the Web site squiddo.com, you can see some of the same critics discussing “the trouble with Mark Pryor.”

One entry says Pryor “calls himself a Democrat, but he votes with the Bush Republicans in the Senate more than with the Democrats.”

The site has links where viewers can go to buy “Democrats Against Mark Pryor” shirts.

Skreened.com, another website that claims to be a home for progressives, also has anti-Pryor shirts available.

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