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James Carville: Arkansas: How Bill Clinton will save the Senate

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As I was having my morning coffee and chicory, I couldn’t help but smile reading Jonathan Martin’s piece on former President Clinton’s recent appearance in Arkansas on behalf of incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, who is facing a tough race for reelection. As one ages, it can sometimes have the effect where you become less certain about things than you might have been as a younger person. There is one thing I am certain of, however: Bill ClintonBill ClintonTrump vs. Clinton: Debate of the century gets wilder Trump's new debate challenge: Silence Clinton aide defends inviting Mark Cuban to debate MORE yesterday was probably the happiest man in the United States. 

Start with the fact that he is now a grandfather, and combine it with the fact that he was right in the middle of the two things that really matter to him: Arkansas and politics. Anybody who has spent any time with the former governor knows that if you ask him what percentage of the vote he got in Calhoun, Clay, Carroll or Clark county in Arkansas in 1983, he won’t just tell you, he will tell you the entire history of the place. Now, I’ve heard it said that when you ask people the time, some people give you time, some people tell you how to build a watch and some people tell you how to build a Swiss village. If you were to ask Bill Clinton about Arkansas politics, he would tell you how to build Geneva. 

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Clinton’s analysis of the Senate race is spot on: Republicans “want you to make this a protest vote. ... They’re saying, ‘Hey, you might like these guys but, hey, you know what you got to do, you got to vote against the president. After all it’s your last shot.’ It’s a pretty good scam isn’t it? ‘Give me a six-year job for a two-year protest.’ That’s Mark Pryor’s opponent’s message.”

This, by the way, is basically the entire Republican Party’s campaign strategy. But if one were to look at the advice from Clinton on the Affordable Care Act, we can see a path forwards for the Democratic Party. Even in the deep-red state of Arkansas, Clinton praised the Affordable Care Act, just as Pryor has been doing all along in his campaign. At Democracy Corps, which I founded in 1999 with strategist Stanley Greenberg, we have been arguing for some time that there is no reason for Democrats to run away from the healthcare reform law. In fact what we are seeing now is that many Republicans are showing some hesitation to discuss their vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. 

I would advise all Democratic Senate candidates in tight races to obtain the former president’s remarks from Arkansas. There is more wisdom and strategic advice in that one tape than in any poll, from any focus group or in any late night or early morning meetings. 

After all of my years in politics, I’ve learned that sometimes things that are said are true and other things that are said are less than true. (By the way, Jonathan Chait: while you’re right about most things you do, you’re wrong about Clinton’s political skills). I was really amused, for instance, when, according to Martin’s story, Clinton mocked reporters who questioned his interest and fixation with Arkansas politics. Well, Arkansas politics is not his fixation, it is his obsession. His reply might be the truest thing said this cycle, “I plead guilty — I am obsessed with you.”

Carville is a political contributor for Fox News and ARISE News. He also serves as a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Carville is the co-author with Stan Greenberg of It’s The Middle Class, Stupid! His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.