Liberals’ urge to self-destruction

By Michael Barone

Liberal commentators like to spotlight rifts in the Republican party and self-destructive fights among various flavors of conservatives. In this they often have legitimate raw material to work with.

But I haven’t seen so much introspection in those quarters when liberals do similar things. Case in point: Arkansas, where New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns is running ads against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who voted against the Manchin-Toomey gun control proposal. These ads could hurt Pryor and, as Time’s Michael Scherer points out, reduce Democrats’ chances of holding onto a Senate majority in the 2014 election.

The chance of Bloomberg’s ads producing an Arkansas senator willing to vote for gun control measures is close to zero. This is a state which has become increasingly Republican in presidential elections since Bill Clinton has been ineligible to run – it went 51 percent-46 percent Republican in 2000, 54 percent-45 percent in 2004, 59 percent-39 percent in 2008 and 61 percent-37 percent in 2012. The only other state to trend Republican in those four elections is Al Gore’s Tennessee: the Clinton-Gore ticket held much of the Upper South for Democrats in the 1990s but has moved sharply away from them ever since.

Nevertheless liberals tried a similar gambit in Arkansas in 2010. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, up for reelection, riled the unions by coming out early against their card check bill. Again, there was no way an Arkansas senator was going to vote for that. But Lincoln got primary opposition from the more liberal Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who lost by only a 52 percent-48 percent margin. Lincoln then lost the general election to Republican Rep. John Boozman by a 58 percent-37 percent margin, a crushing defeat for a two-term incumbent who was Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. There’s no reason to believe that Halter would have done substantially better.

Note that only 259,000 votes were cast in the 2010 Democratic primary. That’s barely half the 506,000 votes cast in Arkansas’s 1992 Democratic presidential primary–and that may understate the size of the state’s Democratic primary electorate 20 years ago since it was obvious that Clinton would win by a large margin. The Democratic base has shrunk greatly and in the process may have become somewhat more liberal–but that’s not likely to help Arkansas Democrats in the general election.

Mark Pryor, son of a former governor and senator, was first elected to the Senate in 2002 and may have been helped by the fact that the Republican incumbent had divorced his wife and married a former staffer. Pryor had no Republican opponent in 2008. Now it looks like his luck is running out and that his best option is to run against Bloomberg.


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