As a Republican strategist, it’s unlikely I’ll be invited to offer advice to embattled Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor as he contemplates an uphill run for a third term this year in my home state of Arkansas.
The energy tax increase coveted by the President is a torpedo aimed at America’s domestic oil and natural gas producers. Never mind that this is one of the few major industries that has continued to create jobs and pay substantial taxes through the tough years of the Great Recession and the glacial recovery. It doesn’t make economic or political sense to punish an industry like that with a massive tax increase — a tax increase that will inevitably be passed on to consumers in the form of higher energy prices.
Of course, you won’t hear the words “tax increase” in the President’s speeches. The big energy tax hike is camouflaged as a proposal to adjust the tax code to close loopholes enjoyed by America’s domestic oil and gas producers. In reality, those “loopholes” are standard deductions and cost recovery measures allowed for virtually every other category of industrial producer.
But a tax increase is a tax increase by any other name and Mark Pryor doesn’t need this albatross hanging from his neck as the Arkansas Senatorial campaign heats up. That campaign is fascinating in itself and a barometer for mid-term elections nationally.
Pryor is a two-term U.S. senator whose father David served Arkansas as governor and in the both the House and Senate. Representative Tom Cotton, Pryor’s Republican opponent, is still in his freshman term in Congress. A Harvard graduate and military veteran, Cotton is running as hard against Obama as he is against Pryor.
January Gallup show the President’s approval rating in Arkansas down to 35 percent. Pryor wasn’t that much better at 45 percent. The Cotton campaign sees the President’s reputation like an abandoned car sinking in the Arkansas River, and they’d like nothing better than to tie Sen. Pryor to the bumper.
Despite steady drift towards the Republicans in Arkansas, Pryor was considered such a strong candidate six years ago that the Arkansas GOP didn’t even put up an opponent against him. Back then he was entrenched, today he’s most often described as vulnerable.
The difference is Barack Obama, not so much the man himself but his failed policies. In the current climate, any support by Pryor for the Obama energy tax would be a gift-wrapped opportunity for his Republican rival.
To win a third term, Sen. Pryor needs to demonstrate his independence and break ranks with the President long enough to oppose the energy tax increase for the bad idea that it is.