Politics

David H. Pryor, Arkansas Senator and Clinton Ally, Dies at 88

David H. Pryor, a liberal Democrat who won two terms as governor of Arkansas and three in the United States Senate, and who paved the way for the political rise of his young ally Bill Clinton in an era of changing racial attitudes in the South, died on Saturday at his home in Little Rock. He was 89.

His death was announced by his son Mark, himself a former two-term United States senator.

Mr. Pryor was eight years older than Mr. Clinton, and they didn’t know each other well until they became accomplished politicians. But they had much in common. They both grew up in segregated small towns in Arkansas, raised by families of modest means and liberal outlook, who resisted pressures to scorn their Black neighbors.

Mr. Pryor’s mother played the piano for services in a Black church, cooked meals for Black prisoners in a county jail and, at 56, became a missionary among the descendants of slaves in British Guiana. Mr. Clinton’s maternal grandparents, who raised him, ran a small grocery store and during the harsh winters sold goods on credit to people of all races.

Along with another white liberal Democrat, Dale Bumpers, Mr. Pryor and Mr. Clinton courted union members and Black voters. All three won their first primary elections for governor against the same notorious segregationist, former Gov. Orval E. Faubus, who had called out the National Guard in 1957 in a futile effort to block the integration of Little Rock High School.

Mr. Pryor, center, with President-elect Bill Clinton and his fellow Arkansas senator Dale Bumpers at the Capitol in January 1993, shortly before Mr. Clinton’s inauguration.Credit…Laura Patterson/CQ Roll Call, via Getty Image

Attempting comebacks three times, Mr. Faubus lost Democratic primaries to Mr. Bumpers in 1970, Mr. Pryor in 1974 and Mr. Clinton in 1986. In heavily Democratic Arkansas, each man crushed his Republican opponent in the general election. Their governorships became springboards to national prominence — for Mr. Bumpers and Mr. Pryor in the Senate, and for Mr. Clinton in the White House for two terms.

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