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Mark Pryor and Mary L. Landrieu begin the 2014 election cycle as two of the most vulnerable Democratic senators. Each faces re-election in states where President Barack Obama and national Democrats are deeply unpopular.
But Pryor and Landrieu have at least one distinct advantage over any potential GOP opponent. Their names — brands, even — have been hewed into the Arkansas and Louisiana political firmaments, respectively, by years of family service. That makes voting for each more than just a choice: It’s something of a family tradition.
Democrats believe that family element gives the senators a brand that will be independent from the national party and will help inoculate them against the strain of GOP attacks to come.
Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who’s based in Alabama and has worked for a number of conservative Democrats, said the family legacy still matters in Louisiana and Arkansas, unlike some other Southern states where “voters have moved past that.”
“These are both names and personalities,” Anzalone explained. “Both of ’em work really hard, but they do defy party politics, and they grab a unique number of independents and Republicans to their side.”
Pryor’s father, David, served as a congressman, governor and senator in Arkansas, retiring from the Senate in 1997. Landrieu’s father, Moon, was mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s. Her brother, Mitch, is the current mayor of the Big Easy. But with three terms in the Senate, the Landrieu brand is more about the senator than anyone else.
“The Landrieu name has its pull, especially with black voters,” said John Maginnis, a longtime nonpartisan Louisiana political analyst. “But it’s reached a point now where Mary’s well-established in her own right.”
Being a known entity in their respective states doesn’t mean either senator will have anything close to an easy race, though.
Three numbers illuminate their challenge and the early GOP strategy against the incumbents. In 2011, Pryor and Landrieu both voted 95 percent of the time with the president in votes where Obama clearly indicated his preference. Last November, only 36.9 percent of voters in Arkansas and 40.6 percent in Louisiana cast their ballots for the president.
Pryor, who didn’t have a challenger in 2008, has a steeper hill to climb, numerically. Republicans looking toward 2014 noticed and are likely to have a simple message against him.
“It frames up this way: If you like President Obama, if you want someone who will be there for President Obama, if you want someone who will vote nine times out of 10 with president, then you want Mark Pryor,” one plugged-in Arkansas Republican explained. “If you want a conservative, you’ll vote for the other guy.”