Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a renewed push in his home state of Arkansas to boost Democrats in tight local races that also have major national implications as early voting started on Monday in the state.
The globe-trotting Clinton, who served six terms as governor, returned to Arkansas over the weekend for the second time in a month, headlining three days of rallies in five cities with substantial African-American populations.
Democrats are hoping Clinton will help incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, who is fighting for his political life against U.S. Representative Tom Cotton, a first-term Republican congressman.
Cotton has a slight lead in the race ahead of the Nov. 4 election, several polls have shown.
Republicans aim to oust Pryor as they try to take control of the U.S. Senate, seeing him as vulnerable and attacking him for his support of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare”, which is deeply unpopular in the state.
Cotton has cast Pryor as a tool of current President Barack Obama, who is also deeply unpopular in Arkansas, mentioning “Obama” or “Obamacare” more than 70 times in each of the two televised debates last week. Pryor has sought to distance himself from Obama, criticizing the president for failing to do enough to combat Ebola in the United States.
Analysts said Clinton, who still garners large support at home, is shifting the debate away from the health law and trying to motivate Democratic voters with core party issues, including better access to economic and academic opportunities.
“The key question, of course: Is it enough?” said Jay Barth, a professor of political science at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.
Clinton rallied party faithful at a Sunday rally in Forrest City, saying: “If you want lower interest on college loans, if you want more people to go and finish college, if you want preschool for everybody … you’ve got to vote Mark Pryor and Mike Ross.”
Former congressmen Mike Ross, a Democrat, and Asa Hutchinson, the GOP nominee, are battling for governor with incumbent Mike Beebe, a Democrat, who is unable to seek a third term due to term limits.
Last week, Democrats received a political victory when the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter ID law, which the party argued was a Republican attempt to suppress votes among poor and minorities, groups who typically support Democrats.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Susan Heavey)