Dem Sen. Mark Pryor says no to raising the federal minimum wage

The two-term Democrat is looking at a tough reelection fight in Arkansas

By Elias Isquith

Published February 6, 2014 10:10PM (EST)

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is going to have to work hard, and probably get a little lucky, if he hopes to hold onto his seat and defeat his Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton. It's early yet, but the polls show Pryor to be consistently behind Cotton, albeit not by an insurmountable margin.

In news that's possibly completely unrelated (though we doubt it), Pryor has become the first Democratic senator to go on record in opposition to President Obama's support for raising the minimum wage.

"I know $10.10 still isn’t a whole lot of money, but I think it’s too much, too fast," said Pryor, according to a report from Bloomberg. "I’m not supportive of that."

Pryor's always been one of the more conservative members of the Senate Democratic caucus. And as Bloomberg notes, the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation — two major Pryor donors — both oppose the measure. Wal-Mart, headquartered in Arkansas, has not officially weighed in on a possible Senate bill, but it is a member of the National Retail Federation.

But Pryor's opposition may be less than meets the eye. Despite opposing Obama's decision, Pryor is supportive of raising Arkansas' minimum wage, which at $6.25 is less than the federal level, to $8.25 over a period of three years.

Further, Pryor's office attacked Cotton in September of 2013 for opposing a hike in the minimum wage and bragged about Pryor's record of voting in favor of a hike.

Pressed to explain this seeming inconsistency, a spokesperson for Pryor's office told the Huffington Post that Pryor "is the only candidate in this race that supports raising the minimum wage for hardworking Arkansans. Given that Arkansas' minimum wage is well below the federal level, Mark came to the conclusion after listening closely to folks here that raising it at the state level is the best first step for Arkansans."

Another possible explanation for Pryor's decision was offered to Bloomberg by an editor at the Rothenberg Political Report: "Pryor has to demonstrate his independence from President Obama and the national party," the editor said, "and I think there’s an opportunity for him to use this vote as an example."

A minimum wage hike is very popular. A January poll found roughly seven-out-of-10 respondents registering their support for an increase, including over 50 percent of Republicans.

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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