"You know me," he told a group of seniors at a community center here last week, as campaign aides handed out bumper stickers that looked just like the ones his dad used to use. "I love this state."
As for the difficult race this year, "I've always been ready for it," Pryor told me after the event. "I love traveling the state and talking to people. As you can tell from being here, Arkansas is still a very retail politics state: People here know me, they know I've been to their communities many, many times, they know I try very hard to listen to Arkansans and represent Arkansas."
His father, along with Clinton and former Sen. Dale Bumpers, make up the "Big Three" of Arkansas politics—well-known Democratic titans who are still beloved here and thrived on the retail-politicking nature of the state's campaign culture. That's what Pryor grew up around, and it's those pols who are going all out to ensure he wins. Clinton, who just wrapped up a two-day, four-event swing through the state, is coming back for more big rallies this weekend; the elder Pryor is a frequent fixture on the campaign trail, and has been hitting the road himself to help ensure that a Pryor stays in the Senate next year.
"Mr. President, Governor Beebe, there is one other governor here we need to recognize—and that's David Pryor," Mark Pryor said to applause at a rally in Conway, Ark., making sure to give homage to his father on the stump.
But the road to a GOP Senate majority inevitably passes through Arkansas, and recent polling shows Republicans may well get their wish here: Cotton is up an average of 4.4 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics, and has led all but one of the last month's public polls.
Republicans frequently point to two numbers to make their case: the low 30s, which is where Obama's approval rating in Arkansas has hovered all year, and 93 percent, which they say is the percentage of the time Pryor has voted with Obama in the Senate. Their strategy isn't so much about demolishing Pryor personally as it is about tying him fully to an unpopular Democratic president.
Just ask former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is campaigning for Cotton. "I feel really sorry for Mark that he has to campaign in an environment like we have now," he said in an interview. Ultimately, he added, if Cotton wins it will have little to do with Pryor himself or the family's brand and everything to do with national Democratic policies coming out of D.C.
"The Pryor family's a great family—this state loves that family," Huckabee said. "I don't think this is a rejection of the Pryor family, it's not a rejection of Mark Pryor. This is a repudiation of what [voters] are tired of in Washington."
The strategy appears to be working for Cotton, so he's sticking with it in the final weeks. In the candidates' first debate Monday afternoon, Cotton mentioned Obama more than 50 times in 90 minutes, working to tie Pryor to the unpopular president at every turn. "President Obama said his policies are on the ballot, every single one of them," Cotton said. "In Arkansas, the name of those policies is Mark Pryor."