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An AFSCME poll released on Monday finds incumbent senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) holding an early lead over his likely Republican opponent, Representative Tom Cotton.

When voters were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, Pryor held an 8 point lead — 43 to 35 percent — over Cotton, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy on Tuesday.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas wasted no time targeting the freshman representative, launching a website that describes Cotton as “Too Reckless For Arkansas.”

“After just seven months on the job, Tom Cotton is quitting on his constituents to pursue his blind ambition for higher office. He leaves behind a record that can only be described as reckless and irresponsible,” the website states. “Tom Cotton has a reckless disregard for the challenges facing Arkansas families. His willingness to threaten the economic security and well-being of Arkansans in pursuit of his political career is not the Arkansas way.”

Only 12 percent of voters have very favorable opinions of both Pryor and Cotton, but Pryor’s 35 percent favorability rating tops Cotton’s 16 percent — 50 percent of Arkansans are unsure of their opinion of Cotton.

To regain a Senate majority, Republicans would need to gain a net six seats nationally. Of the 35 Senate seats going up for election, 21 are held by Democrats — and seven of those seats held by a Democrat are in conservative states that President Obama lost in 2012. Given Arkansas’ rightward lean, it is one of the Republican Party’s top targets.

Senator Pryor still won’t face an easy election like he did in 2008, when he won just under 80 percent of votes and his only challenger was a Green Party candidate. In order to secure a win, Pryor will likely have to distance himself from national Democrats and especially President Obama, who lost Arkansas by 20 points in 2008 and 23 points in 2012.

Conservative groups are already labeling the incumbent senator as Obama’s “best ally in Arkansas,” despite the fact that Pryor proudly voted against one of the president’s top legislative priorities: a responsible gun reform bill. In May, Pryor released his first election ad of the season, in which he rebuked Independent New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Obama. “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do,” Pryor said in the ad. “I listen to Arkansas.”

With an early edge over Cotton, Pryor seems to be in decent standing for now, but with the election over a year away, Republicans surely won’t let this vulnerable state go blue without a fight.

Image: uacescomm via Flickr Commons 

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