- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas is in one of the toughest races in the country, in a dead heat with his challenger, state Attorney General Mark Pryor. Entering the stretch run, both sides insist they have the momentum.
"It's rough and tough and we are fighting till the end," says Anthony Hulen, spokesman for the Republican incumbent.
A Zogby International poll conducted Oct. 9-11 found Mr. Hutchinson and his Democratic opponent each with 45 percent, with a 4.5 percent margin of error. That is a Republican improvement from a mid-September poll by Opinion Research, which found Mr. Pryor with 50 percent and Mr. Hutchinson with 40 percent.
Ed Goeas, president of the Tarrance Group, would not discuss details of the polling he had conducted for Mr. Hutchinson, but said it mirrored other national polls.
"The numbers are moving every day; it's a dead-even race," says Mr. Goeas, who described Mr. Hutchinson's support as "intense."
Mr. Hutchinson, 52, who like Gov. Mike Huckabee is an ordained Southern Baptist minister, alienated some of his most ardent supporters when he divorced his wife of 29 years and married a former staffer, Randi Fredholm, 39.
Tovah Ravitz-Meehan, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says Mr. Hutchinson is one of the "most vulnerable" Republicans up for re-election. "Hutchinson has made mistakes," Mrs. Ravitz-Meehan says. "His whole personal life has been fodder to countless articles and editorials, and he missed votes [last week] to campaign."
Republicans say the divorce issue was settled in the party primary when Mr. Hutchinson defeated Jim Bob Duggar, a state legislator who campaigned with his 13 children on a "family-values" platform. Mr. Hulen says only reporters from national newspapers still are asking about it. The campaign, they say, has moved beyond the personal and now is focusing on issues on which their party can win. Democrats are keeping the issue alive with frequent assurances that they will not try to use it against Mr. Hutchinson.
"Things look better today than [they] did over the summer," says one Republican Party official. "The focus has shifted a lot to issues that are favored by Republicans."
Mr. Hutchinson's campaign is comparing positions with its opponent on abortion, Second Amendment rights, less government and lower taxes. Mr. Hutchinson is pro-life and, in their final debate last week, challenged Mr. Pryor on his position.
Mr. Pryor says he personally opposes abortion but doggedly refuses to define himself as either pro-life or pro-choice. "He continues to take four sides to a two-sided issue," Mr. Hutchinson says. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette of Little Rock, the state's largest newspaper, mocked Mr. Pryor yesterday in an editorial endorsing the senator. All that Mr. Pryor has made clear, the newspaper said, is that "if Mark Pryor gets pregnant, he will have the baby."
Mr. Pryor became attorney general in 1999 and, at age 39, is the country's youngest attorney general.
The spokeswoman for the national Democrats attributed the tight race to disciplined and detailed campaigning. "They've been working very hard at it, they have a very good operation down there, knocking on doors, getting people registered, walking precincts, rallies," Mrs. Ravitz-Meehan says.
Mr. Hutchinson, whose brother Asa Hutchinson heads the Drug Enforcement Administration, is serving his first Senate term.
Getting Republicans to turn out and communicating Mr. Hutchinson's record are key to winning the race, said Mr. Hulen. "We are going to get out his message of accomplishments and hard work, and that the values his votes reflect, reflect the values of the people of Arkansas," he said.
The Democrats are counting on turnout, too. Says the Democratic spokeswoman: "As a general rule, I'll take Democrats' get-out-the-vote efforts over Republicans most days."
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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