Good commentary from Ed Kilgore of Washington Monthly on the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton. It’s about the state’s political realignment from blue to red and numbers that don’t offer hope for Democrats that exists in other Southern states.
Race plays a role, yes. And Barack Obama. But the realignment was underway before he came along.
What makes the defection of “traditionally Democratic” white voters in Arkansas so politically devastating is that the state has a relatively small African-American population (15%, as of the 2010 census, the lowest of any former Confederate state other than Texas, but without Texas’ large Hispanic population), and hasn’t experienced the kind of large influx of transplants and “knowledge workers” that has kept North Carolina purple and (arguably) made Virginia blue. Add in a traditionally Republican mountain region and suburban voters, and you’ve got a GOP coalition that is understandably growing rapidly. In many respects, Arkansas resembles its eastern neighbor Tennessee, where conservative Republicans now have a stranglehold on statewide offices. But additionally, like its southern and western neighbors Louisiana and Texas, Arkansas is an energy-producing state, with all the implications that has for attitudes towards the bicoastal liberal agenda.
My postscript is — again — that 2014 is the make or break year for Democrats. Mike Ross could win the governor’s race. Mark Pryor is wounded but his Republican opponent is dangerously extreme and personally awkward. The party has fielded three good congressional candidates, at least two of whom start with reasonable chances. The state Senate is lost to Democrats before elections start, but Democrats targeted winnable House districts in candidate recruitment and they make a case that perhaps a half-dozen seats will determine the House majority in 2015. (Unless realignment has totally taken hold and hopes of Democratic takeovers in several districts don’t amount to a pipedream.)