Last week the Talk Business-Hendrix College poll provided the most exhaustive and credible assessment to date of the big political races.
A three-night sample of nearly 1,800 respondents, almost a fifth of them found on cell phones, produced three revelations more significant than the horse races themselves.
For the record, those horse races showed a 44-42 margin for Tom Cotton over Mark Pryor, which was within the margin of error, and a 46-41 margin for Asa Hutchinson over Mike Ross.
One revelation is that the Democrats, Pryor and Ross, can win only if they turn out black voters at a level exceeding the black-voter subset of 7 percent to 8 percent in this uncommonly large sample.
Not to worry, Democrats say.
They assure that the national party has long since committed to an unprecedented voter drive. They say those efforts will produce something higher than the 10 percent that the black vote composed in the last Senate race between John Boozman and Blanche Lincoln.
The poll has the two Democrats getting seven to eight of every 10 black votes. That's actually down a bit from the margins of the Bill Clinton and Vic Snyder era. But it still holds the potential to deliver victory.
Always inclined toward irony, I told a leading Democrat that maybe the party's candidates, after spending months mostly running from Barack Obama, could be delivered victory only by an Obama appearance the last weekend at a rally targeting black turnout in Little Rock or Pine Bluff.
"No," he replied forcefully.
Democrats would risk losing independent voters, he feared.
"But Bill Clinton--now you're talking," he said.
So look for a late Clinton rally and a frenzied Democratic drive to turn out black voters, whom, as it happens, Republicans have sought to hold down by the new voter-ID law. That law works to the disadvantage of poor people, thus black people disproportionately.
If control of the U.S. Senate should come down to the fate of provisional ballots cast in Arkansas under the new voter-ID law ... well, let's not invent or invite trouble. Let's merely engage in a mild flirtation with high drama.
The second revelation is that, strangely, respondents age 65 or older favored Cotton over Pryor by 46-42.
That must be a combination of a general Republicanization of that population and misapplied senior resentment of Medicare cuts under the Affordable Care Act.
The deal made under Obamacare was that hospitals would accept lower Medicare reimbursements and get that money back from newly insured persons and expanded Medicaid.
No services to general Medicare recipients were actually cut.
It's Cotton who has voted to privatize Medicare by giving recipients vouchers that wouldn't cover their full costs of buying private insurance.
Look for Pryor--and probably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's super PAC--to gin back up the attack ads on Cotton's anti-government record for senior citizens.
Look also for David Pryor to remain prominent--indeed become more prominent--in his son's campaign.
There is a downside in that it makes Mark seem dependent on his dad. But the upside is that David Pryor remains beloved by those old enough to remember him.
The third revelation is that the gender gap is real, and big, and working more to Cotton's benefit than Pryor's.
Women outnumbered men in the sample and more women are actually expected to vote. So that helps Pryor, except that, while he leads among women by five points, he trails among men by 12 points.
There is little Democratic hope to gain the support of the white Arkansas male. He seems lost in the deer woods to fear and resentment of the changing economy and culture.
You'd best drive female turnout by calling attention to Cotton's extreme conservatism and mean-seeming voting record.
But let's be clear: Arkansas women do not lean as leftward as women nationally. They narrowly favor Hutchinson over Ross in this poll.
On that point: While Bill Clinton might help with blacks, pollster Roby Brock will reveal numbers on his Talk Business television show at 9 a.m today on KATV, Channel 7, that--I am advised--suggest that Hillary Clinton wouldn't be much of an asset with a campaign appearance in Arkansas this fall.
By the way, I'm told that the proposed initiated act on raising the minimum wage, if it gets on the ballot, could be worth two points to Democrats by luring poor folks to the polls.
So this is how best to size it all up: The usual reduced midterm turnout delivers victory to Cotton and Hutchinson. A mad Democratic dash to engage blacks, poor people and women could make it a donnybrook for the ages.
Arkansas Democrats believe this is their last stand against irrelevance for maybe a generation. So I'm thinking a donnybrook for the ages.
John Brummett's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 08/03/2014
Print Headline: Where the races stand