I mentioned yesterday that challenging the incumbent to a bunch of debates in the “Lincoln-Douglas” style, as Rep. Tom Cotton did yesterday, is often thought to be the gambit of an underdog worried that they’re behind in the race.
Democratic strategist and Talk Business blogger Michael Cook, as well as D-G columnist John Brummett, made similar points yesterday on Twitter. “If you weren’t convinced cotton was behind, his calling for numerous free-wheeling debates should prove it to you,” wrote Brummett. Cook wrote, “Cue Cotton campaign: When a campaign is losing traction & behind in the polls they ALWAYS propose ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ debates.”
Just now, the Democratic Part of Arkansas issued a press release playing up this same theme: “After four consecutive polls showing Mark Pryor ahead of Congressman Cotton, the Cotton campaign is desperate to change the subject.” DPA Chair Vincent Insalaco said in the statement, “It’s no wonder then that Congressman Cotton would prefer to debate with ‘no moderators, no reporters, no panel of questioners.’ Congressman Cotton doesn’t want to answer for his record.”
Cotton said his debate proposal was “not a stunt or a ploy” but the timing of the debate proposal is a little awkward for the Cotton campaign, given the recent polling showing Pryor ahead, or at least a much closer race than many in the Cotton camp were likely expecting. Another poll out today from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee surveyed 600 likely voters and found Pryor up 48-45 (obviously take it with a grain of salt given the source).
I will leave to readers to divine whether the debate proposal means “Congressman Cotton’s desperation is showing” (it seems to me that both campaigns are desperate to win and will employ normal campaign tactics to do so, including tediously describing the other campaign as desperate). My own take is that I will need to see more polling before I’m ready to anoint Pryor the favorite given the trends in Arkansas and the likely makeup of the electorate in a non-presidential year. But it’s looking more and more like this will not be the Blanche Lincoln rout that the Cotton camp once hoped for. Perception matters — the reason that the campaigns spend so much time bickering over who’s “winning” seven months before the election is because that’s something donors care a lot about. Follow the money.
As for the slightly cheesy “Lincoln-Douglas” talk, there is very little chance of that happening, which the Cotton campaign knows. Frankly, this is the sort of strategic minutia that gets politicos following the play-by-play hyped up, but will likely have no impact on the final election result.