With just a little more than a year before the 2014 general election, Democratic senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas has a slim lead over his likely Republican opponent, first-term congressman Tom Cotton. According to a new poll from Talk Business and Hendrix College, the incumbent Pryor has 42 percent support while Cotton has 41 percent. Seventeen percent of likely Arkansas voters remain undecided.

Jay Barth, a political scientist at Hendrix College, offered this analysis of the Senate race:

One would assume that such dismal approval numbers would doom an incumbent Senator running for reelection. Yet, Pryor continues to hold a sliver of a lead (42%-41%) over his challenger, Republican Congressman Tom Cotton. The fact that Cotton is also a federal officeholder likely is hurting his ability to open up a lead on the incumbent Democrat.

Cotton has a lead with independent voters 48%-42%, but Pryor is hanging tough in that subgroup of voters who have been the death knell for most Arkansas Democrats in recent cycles.

Both candidates are in strong shape with their party loyalists. Pryor’s strongest showing is with the oldest group of voters; those 65 and older support the Democrat by 46%-41%, indicating that the Pryor name may still have some potency with a high turnout group.

The four-question poll also shows that 62 percent of Arkansas voters disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, while 48 percent approve of Pryor's job as senator. Just 34 percent of voters approve of both Obama and Pryor's job performance. A plurality, 40 percent, blame Obama and the Democrats for the current shutdown, with 35 percent blaming the Republicans and 24 percent giving equal blame to both sides.

Pryor's Senate seat is a top target for Republicans in 2014. Arkansas's disapproval of Obama and the national Democrats presents a real problem for federal-level Democrats in the Natural State. Mitt Romney won Arkansas with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2012, Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln lost her reelection bid in 2010, and following the 2012 elections all four House members, including Cotton, are now Republicans. Still, voters regularly elect Democrats on the state level, as evidenced by the two-term outgoing governor, Democrat Mike Beebe, and the good polling so far for his would-be successor, fellow Democrat and former congressman Mike Ross (who lost his House seat in 2012 to Cotton). Arkansas voters will vote for governor and senator in 2014.

Additionally, Pryor has the benefit of having a well-known last name--his father, David Pryor, was governor and later senator and served as a conservative Democrat. That may partially account for the 65-and-older cohort that still supports the younger Pryor by a five-point margin, as the latest poll demonstrated. Those older white Democrats have delivered the conservative state for Pryor in past elections, even as they have voted for Republicans for president.

For these reasons, Cotton and the GOP are trying to connect Pryor's voting record in the Senate with the liberal policies of Obama, including gun control and Obamacare. Pryor voted for Obamacare in 2010 and has defended his support of the unpopular health care law, even calling it an "amazing success story."

Next Page