- Associated Press - Thursday, October 30, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton ventured outside their parties’ geographic bases Thursday, underscoring how much the rivals in Arkansas’ Senate race are hunting for every vote in the final stretch of their nationally watched campaign.

Pryor visited northwest Arkansas, the GOP’s traditional home base in the state. Cotton toured the northeast region, an area that until recent elections had been a reliable source of Democratic votes.

By heading into each other’s strongholds, Pryor and Cotton sought to pick up voters whose support for their opponent might be lukewarm. An NBC News-Marist poll released Sunday showed that 10 percent of voters in the areas who had expressed support for a candidate said they might still change their mind.

“I just need to get to as many places as I can and shake as many hands as I can,” Pryor said in Fayetteville. “In Arkansas, we’re very much a retail state. People want you to come to their hometown, ask them for their vote, shake their hand and look them in the eye.”

Republicans are increasingly confident about their chances to defeat Pryor, which they see as crucial in their efforts to win a majority in the Senate. But two recent polls have varied wildly on whether Pryor is within striking distance of Cotton.

An NBC News-Marist poll of likely voters conducted Oct. 19-23 showed Cotton with a 45-43 edge over Pryor, well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. But The Arkansas Poll, conducted by the University of Arkansas, Oct. 21-27, showed Cotton with a 49-36 lead among very likely voters. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

The NBC News-Marist poll included undecided voters; The Arkansas Poll asked only which candidate respondents were likely to vote for.

Cotton and Pryor stuck to familiar themes during their visits, with Cotton accusing Pryor of siding too often with President Barack Obama and not the state’s interests. Pryor portrayed Cotton as someone who wouldn’t be able or willing to work with both parties in the Senate.

The state’s northwest region, home to the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is a longtime base of support for Republicans. Democrats didn’t field a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, which represents the region.

But the party said it believes it’s poised to make inroads in the region - particularly among minorities, younger voters and women who will help Pryor as he fights for his political career. The state party says its voter registration efforts account for 60 percent of the new registrants in Washington and Benton counties.

“It’s a surgical approach in a lot of ways. We know who our voters are,” said Robert McLarty, director of the state party’s coordinated campaign.

Cotton toured parts of northeast Arkansas, a section of the state that was once considered safely Democratic but has seen Republican gains over the past two elections. Cotton and Republican Asa Hutchinson planned to hold a rally in Jonesboro Friday morning with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and several other GOP governors.

“Most of Arkansas used to be a Democratic stronghold,” Cotton said after touring Allen Engineering, a concrete equipment manufacturer in Paragould. “But we’re counting on a very big victory here in northeast Arkansas. That’s why I’m here five days before the election.”

Republicans said they can trace their gains in the region to 2010, when Democratic U.S. Rep. Marion Berry retired and Republican Rick Crawford won the seat. Crawford is seeking a third term next week.

“That opened I believe the floodgate for others to decide to run as Republicans in that area,” state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb said.


DeMillo reported from Paragould, Arkansas.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo and Kelly P. Kissel at www.twitter.com/kisselAP

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