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Analysis: Plenty still at play in Senate campaign

- Associated Press - Sunday, August 31, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - In a campaign where we've already seen ads featuring the Ebola virus and a bird pooping on a newspaper, it's hard to imagine how the Arkansas Senate race could get more intense - or more bizarre.

Though Labor Day is traditionally viewed as the time that campaigns heat up, this is a race that has showed little signs of slowing down. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican rival and Republican Congressman Tom Cotton have spent more than a year swapping attacks in the race, which has already run up a $20 million price tag and is viewed as crucial to the fight for Senate control.

It's a tight race, and there's plenty that could still be at play as the race begins its final stretch.

Here's a look at the factors that could still tilt the Senate campaign:

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ADS, ADS AND MORE ADS

If you're tired of the onslaught of political ads taking over the airwaves, you may want to turn off your TV for a few months. It's not going to get better anytime soon.

The Senate race has already featured some of the most memorable - and bizarre - campaign ads in the election cycle. They include a Club for Growth ad that criticizes Pryor and ends with a parrot pooping on a newspaper, and Pryor's most recent ad invoking the Ebola outbreak to criticize Cotton on pandemic response funding.

Though both sides complain about the onslaught of negative ads, the amount of money they're investing in them is a sign the campaigns believe they work.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

This is a race that has hinged more on domestic concerns like the health care law, Social Security and immigration than world events. But a growing number of international crises, from the Ukraine to Iraq, could easily change that.

An Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cotton is considered one of the more hawkish members of Congress and regularly chides the Obama administration's foreign policy. He and Pryor split last year on whether to support military intervention in Syria.

If the White House seeks a vote on whether to use military action in Syria against a violent militant group, it could shake up a race that has been more focused on matters at home.

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GAFFE WATCH

A common sight on the campaign trail are the "trackers," staffers from the opposing side who are following the candidates with cameras eager to catch a slip-up or gaffe from the candidates on the stump. They're hoping to catch a moment on camera akin to former Virginia Sen. George Allen referring to a videographer, who was of Indian descent, following him as "macaca."

Neither candidate has had a gaffe on that scale. But both have made remarks in interviews the other side has seized upon as insulting to key parts of their biographies - targeting Cotton for comments Pryor said insulted his faith and Cotton accusing Pryor of belittling his military background.

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DEBATES

So far, the only debate Pryor and Cotton have engaged in is over debates themselves. The campaigns have been haggling publicly over which debates they'll participate in, and what format.

It's unclear when the two will debate and whether there'll be more than one, but a face-to-face matchup offers both candidates as many opportunities as it does perils. It could offer rare unscripted moments in a race where both candidates have mostly stayed on message.

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"OBAMACARE"

The two rivals have been fighting over myriad issues, but the president's signature policy achievement still remains a recurring theme in this race. Cotton will keep trying to tie Pryor to the health care overhaul, which remains politically unpopular in Arkansas. Pryor, meanwhile, has been touting popular aspects of the law such as its ban on denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Pryor may be boosted by the good news surrounding Arkansas' efforts at shedding the uninsured through the health law. The state's compromise Medicaid expansion is being credited with the state seeing a dramatic drop in residents without insurance, while the state has projected premiums for its health exchange will drop 2 percent in 2015.

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Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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