The importance of being Mark 

click to enlarge Mark Pryor and family
  • Mark Pryor and family

After a reporter's third or fourth question in the same vein, and a particularly rude question at that ("People say you're not as personable as your father . . . "), Mark Pryor begins to show weariness.

"Maybe I'm not as personable as my father," he says. "Your generation has to remember that I'm  my dad. When I ran for the legislature, people expected me to be David Pryor. I'm proud of him. I'm proud that Arkansas had two strong senators for years, my father and Dale Bumpers. But I'm not David Pryor, I'm Mark Pryor."

It's Attorney General Mark Pryor who's running for the Senate now, virtually certain to be the Democratic nominee opposing the virtually certain Republican nominee, Sen. Tim Hutchinson, in the general election next year. The race will draw more out-of-state attention and out-of-state money than is customary for Arkansas. With the Senate evenly divided, both parties covet the seat, and both think it's winnable. It had always belonged to Democrats, including David Pryor, until Hutchinson arrived in 1997, after the elder Pryor retired from politics and Hutchinson defeated the Democratic nominee to succeed him. Mark Pryor hopes to make Hutchinson a one-term senator. Early polls suggest he has a fighting chance.

One reason Hutchinson is considered more vulnerable than the average incumbent is a spot of scandal in his private life. A year or so after he took office, rumors began to circulate that the senator and his wife had grown apart, while he and a younger woman, a staff member, were growing together. The Hutchinsons were divorced in 1999. A year later he married his present wife, who had left his staff by then. Some thought he wouldn't seek re-election, but he's running, having 'fessed up and apologized, more or less. Embarrassing for any politician, this sort of thing is even more so for a Bob Jones U. grad and former radio preacher who has always catered to the Religious Right.

Pryor quickly disposes of the obligatory question about Hutchinson's divorce and remarriage. "I don't know anything about it, I don't want to know anything about it, we're not going to talk about it. It's not an issue for this campaign at all." That won't stop others from talking, of course. Pryor's own private life, which includes two small children, son Adams and daughter Porter, and one wife, Jill, is without blemish so far as is known. The family attends Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, a church usually associated with the Religious Right. Many have noted that this race will be Hutchinson's first in which he can't run as the "family values" candidate.

If not Hutchinson hanky-panky, what issues will Pryor be talking about? This early, it's hard to say, but "some of them will be health care, economic policy, taxes, the military, and how each issue affects Arkansas. A Senate race is not like a state race. It could be any issue around the world. You don't know what people will be focused on." (How true. Pryor was interviewed before the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.)

Everyone believes that Pryor is more liberal than the far-right Hutchinson. Will he confirm?

"I don't want to talk about him. But the National Journal rated him the most conservative senator. He voted with his party 95 percent of the time. Jesse Helms is more liberal than he is. But I don't like to talk about 'liberal' and 'conservative,' either. I want to do what's best for Arkansas."

Hutchinson has a big lead in the early fund-raising. It's likely Pryor will reduce the lead, but never quite catch up. Democrats seldom do, unless they're incumbents.



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