"Give me a six-year job for a two-year protest, that's Mark Pryor's opponent's message," Clinton said, referring to Cotton.
Clinton comes to Arkansas in a year when Democrats are struggling to survive here. Pryor is the last Democrat left in the state's congressional delegation; former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, who is running to succeed popular Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, is trailing in the polls against Republican Asa Hutchinson. The former president's four events—two on Monday, two today—sought to both present a strong argument for Democrats in a state where they're struggling and to energize the party's base in a year when Democratic turnout is crucial.
Clinton framed the main contrast between Pryor and the other Democrats on the ticket and Republicans as one between bipartisan team players and obstructionist, "my way or the highway" politicians.
"Mike Ross and Mark Pryor have proven that they will work with anybody to get something done—and that they hate inaction and gridlock and shutting the government down and not anybody doing anything for anybody else," he said, in a reference to the GOP's 2013 shutdown of the federal government.
Clinton is the rare Democratic surrogate whose presence could actually move the dial this fall, and nowhere is that more true than his home state of Arkansas. As polling momentum has shifted toward Cotton, national Democrats are pulling out all the stops to save Pryor—and in turn, Democratic control of the Senate.
And in a year where the deeply unpopular Obama isn't welcome on the campaign trail in many key races, Democrats around the country—and especially here—can't get enough of Bill. The Clintons are an institution here: Clinton's presidential library is in Little Rock; visitors to the state fly into Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport; the Clintons visit frequently and still maintain strong ties to the state. In his speeches, Clinton sought to stress those ties, noting that he's due to attend his 50th high school reunion, name-dropping friends and former supporters and reminiscing about knowing Ross since he was "a teenager."
Even Cotton demurred when given an opportunity to criticize Clinton: he told ABC News this weekend he's "not worried about Bill Clinton's support for Mark Pryor. I'm worried about Mark Pryor's support for Barack Obama."
"And in the end, it's Mark Pryor who's on the ballot, not Bill Clinton," Cotton said.
But Clinton has a knack for being a better advocate for the candidates he supports than they are for themselves. Clinton's defense of Obama's economic policies completely reframed the debate and was seen as the strongest argument for an Obama second term that year—including the messaging from the Obama campaign itself. In this case, Clinton was framing the argument for Democrats who are seeking to underscore their independence and avoid being brought down by Obama's unpopularity.