Mark Pryor's Vulnerability in Arkansas Begins to Cost Him

He's the only incumbent in a tight race who spent more than he raised last quarter. 

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., holds a press conference to release a 'Rural Report Card' Feb. 9, 2006, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., spent more money than he took in during the fourth fundraising quarter.

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Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is confronting a series of sobering numbers as he seeks a third term in a rapidly reddening state.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating in the Natural State languishes in the basement at 35 percent, according to Gallup. In the 14 public polls of the race, Pryor has yet to clear more than 45 percent of support. And his likely Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, outraised him during the final three months of the year by more than $100,000.

Now the pressure cooker of being the nation’s most vulnerable senator is beginning to cost him.

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An analysis of campaign finance numbers by U.S. News & World Report found that Pryor spent more money than he took in during the fourth fundraising quarter – a troublesome sign for an incumbent this early in the campaign cycle.

In fact, a review of fundraising totals in the nation’s top Senate races reveal that Pryor is the only incumbent in a competitive race who burned through more cash than he took in during the last quarter.

While Pryor accrued $1.1 million between October and the end of December, his expenditures ran around $1.3 million.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee explained away the proliferate spending as a result of a fully formed race which has placed the incumbent under siege by an array of conservative-aligned interest groups.

In the wake of an estimated $3 million in attack ads, Pryor has been forced on the airwaves to defend himself and strike back.

“He’s been hit with more outside attack ads than any candidate in the country,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky. “When campaigns are fully engaged, that’s what happens.”

Pryor still enjoys about a two-to-one advantage in cash on hand over Cotton, a boyish-looking 36-year-old infantry officer who has completed tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

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But considering the high priority national Republicans have placed on the Arkansas contest, Cotton’s campaign believes it can win even if it doesn’t match Pryor dollar for dollar.

“They’re trying to make a big deal of having $2 million more dollars? Blanche Lincoln raised $12 million in 2010 and John Boozman annihilated her,” said Cotton spokesman David Ray, referencing the 21-point shellacking the last Democratic incumbent experienced there.

Because a win in Arkansas is crucial to GOP hopes of returning to the majority, both sides are expected to trot out their party’s biggest stars in the coming months.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential 2016 presidential aspirant, chose Cotton as his first Senate endorsement of the 2014 campaign cycle and a Democratic source confirms that former President Bill Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, will again campaign and raise money for Pryor in the coming months.