Billions of dollars were spent on political television ads in 2012, but not in Arkansas. The state was never in doubt in the presidential race, there were no statewide races, and the congressional races were not very competitive.
Don’t get used to it. In fact, you might want to practice programming that DVR before this time next year.
In 2014, Arkansas offers Republicans a chance to replace Democrats in the Governor’s Mansion, where Gov. Mike Beebe is term-limited, and in the Senate, where Sen. Mark Pryor is vulnerable. Democrats, of course, will not simply hand over those seats. At the same time, Republican voters in eastern Arkansas’ First District could be looking at a contested primary if the influential Club for Growth has its way.
Let’s stick with the Senate and First District races for now.
It’s rare for incumbent senators to lose in the general election, but this is the first time Pryor has had a Republican opponent since President Obama was elected, and the state is in the midst of a historic shift. That means the national GOP and its allies will make Pryor’s seat a top priority. The Club for Growth, a powerful group backed by big donors that supports limited government, has already produced an ad tying him to Obama – complete, as is usually the case with both sides, with a faceless narrator, unflattering photos, and sound effects.
The Supreme Court has ruled that these groups, unlike the actual campaigns, can raise and spend unlimited money when they don’t donate directly to candidates. So expect to see ads like this every time you tune the TV to a local station in 2014.
The Club’s opposition to Pryor is expected, but Rep. Rick Crawford, the Republican who represents the First District, is also in its crosshairs. The Club has set up a website dedicated to defeating him and eight other Republicans – not with Democrats, but with more conservative Republicans. If Crawford draws the right opponent, the money will flow and voters will see ads similar to the one opposing Pryor.
Crawford has become a target because last year he proposed a 10-year tax hike on Americans making a million dollars a year in exchange for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. He said then that the country is in so deep a hole that additional tax revenues are inevitable. That being the case, those revenues should be accompanied by a balanced budget amendment to control spending.
Crawford said in an interview Friday that some members of Congress praised the idea in "hushed tones and whispers," but it went nowhere in an election year. He pointed out that Congress recently voted to raise taxes, not just on million-dollar incomes, but on people making $200,000 a year, without any long-term spending controls. "We saw taxes go up on millionaires, and what do we get for it? Nothing," he said.
No matter. Crawford got into trouble simply for talking about compromise and proposing to proactively address a problem rather than wait for a crisis, as usual.
For Crawford to lose in his own party’s primary, someone would have to run against him who would be more conservative and also electable. It’s not clear who in the First District that would be. On the other hand, last year Beth Anne Rankin, who is pretty conservative, was the clear Republican frontrunner in south Arkansas’ Fourth District, but outside groups decided they preferred an unknown Tom Cotton. The Club for Growth alone funneled a quarter of a million dollars his direction. The vote wasn’t even that close.
If you think unlimited campaign dollars funding nonstop negative ads is a problem, there is a solution: Take congressional candidates as seriously as you would a job applicant, which is what they are, and take these ads with a grain of salt. Find out where candidates stand from sources other than a faceless narrator backed by spooky music. Your local newspaper is a great start, or at least, it should be.
And get those DVRs ready. You’re going to need them.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org