Senator Blanche Lincoln is supposedly in tight but survivable territory as she endures a primary challenge this Tuesday from Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. Sitting senators almost always win in these scenarios, possibly why there hasn't been a primary challenge to a sitting AR senator from either party in 36 years. This fact was thrown out during the intro to the Lincoln Halter debate this last Friday in an attempt to gild the frame around the event. This was especially necessary as neither candidate had especially impressed in previous debates. The MC went on. A Golden Glove boxing competition was held in this same space last week! Debate is the safeguard of our democracy and our greatest protection from tyranny! And then they brought out the candidates and got down to brass tacks. I was sitting next to Mrs. Davenport, who gave me a pen to take notes in return for a promise to spread the word that her husband Monty is running for land commissioner. Mrs. Davenport was supporting Lincoln. A row of teamsters in front of me were with Halter. In fact my row seemed to be all Lincoln supporters, but as an Amen Corner they were far less vocal than the teamsters.
This feels the race in a nutshell. Halter with lots of Union support, making lots of noise, lots of ads on the radio and on tv, his face in banners on all my news websites including, disconcertingly, the international ones. Lincoln is supposed to be running an intense campaigning too, but it is far less visible to me. I've only seen one ad for her. When I go down to the river to pick up the girls for mentoring, the street is lined with Halter signs. Coming up to the Convention Center for the debate, Halter volunteers were everywhere. Lincoln did get in a dig at the door though.
Lincoln has been dinging Halter for buying a rug with taxpayer money. I doubt it's very effective. Certainly not as effective as all those country accents thanking Bill Halter on the radio, or complaining about Blanche Lincoln's Washington ways.
In the debate Halter was pugnacious and on point, consistently using every reply to contrast himself favorably with Lincoln. Lincoln was sweet and vague. By the close Halter seemed irritable, perhaps tense at not having got more of a rise out of Lincoln and possibly annoyed that the third candidate in the race, a non factor named DC Morrison, had a good showing dryly delivering anecdotes and common sense one liners to the crowd. Halter needs the Lincoln protest vote to go to him if he is to have a chance. But half the time Morrison sided with Lincoln and never really joined Halter to attack the Senator. Meanwhile Lincoln seemed a little unsteady early, but closed strong with a better ending statement than Halter's. She can rightly tout her experience and her chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee.
The truth is, the debate makes clear Lincoln as benefited from weak to non-existent opposition in her political career. This seems true of a lot of state politicians. They rise through the ranks with a combination of timing and luck. Halter's challenge vs. Lincoln also benefits from timing and luck, running in an anti-incumbent year against a senator that national unions are deeply invested in defeating. Even though Halter's union position is very much the same as Lincoln's. But Lincoln voted against card check legislation, and although unions know Halter isn't for card check either, they don't particularly care as long as they can be shown taking a senatorial scalp.
In this way local elections are battlegrounds for groups neither from the state nor with much investment in its welfare. Likewise the results will be read to reflect larger national story lines. My hope is that Arkansas will return Blanche Lincoln, mainly because the Agriculture Chairmanship in good for the state. That Bill Halter will pack up his political ambitions after this race, mainly because his lottery legislation and his letting his campaign be used as a head hunting tool by outside parties strikes me as cynical. And that come the fall, the Democrats nationwide will take stock of the new numbers in the Senate, whatever they may be, and decide it should not be such a bad thing to have a tent big enough to accommodate conservative democrats.
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