Bill Halter has one thing going for him heading into the Democratic runoff Tuesday against incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln: momentum.
A Daily Kos/Research 2000
poll on Friday showed the Arkansas lieutenant governor with 49 percent to Lincoln’s 45 percent. The margin of error is four percent — exactly Halter’s lead. A Daily Kos poll the previous week showed Halter with 47 percent to 44 percent for Lincoln, who faces deep anti-Washington sentiment in her home state in the final stretch of a contentious race. In the primary on May 18
, Lincoln won 44.5 percent of the vote to Halter’s 42.5 percent. A third candidate, D.C. Morrison, won 13 percent.
The Daily Kos poll showed that Morrison voters who plan to cast ballots in the runoff back Halter by a 10-point margin. The winner will face Republican Rep. John Boozman in the fall.
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, the November face-off will be a target race for both parties. The Democrats will attempt to hold on to the seat while Republicans see it as a likely pickup.
Press Secretary Amber Marchand says that no matter who wins on Tuesday, “there’s no doubt that they will face an uphill battle” against Boozman. “Both Lincoln and Halter have run to the far left and embraced President Obama’s out-of-touch policies in an effort to appease their liberal base, and we are confident that Arkansas presents a key pickup opportunity for Republicans.”
A Halter win, however, will be a slam-dunk for national progressives and big labor in a state where Blue Dog pragmatism traditionally prevails.
“If Halter wins it will be in part to the credit of the progressive netroots, who regard Blanche Lincoln as the poster child for corporate-friendly Democrats and turned Halter’s nomination into a national cause,” said Matthew Kerbel, author of “Netroots: Online Progressives and the Transformation of American Politics.”
He said that a Halter win will show progressives they can make a difference in state races, just as they did in 2008 on the presidential level. Groups like MoveOn will now organize in states where they traditionally haven’t, he said.
If Lincoln survives, she would foil the anti-incumbent wave that has already knocked out Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter and Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett. But she would enter the general election badly wounded in a matchup against Boozman.
In the contentious 14-week primary, Halter, a state Democratic Party outsider who worked in the Social Security Administration during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has forced Lincoln to swing to the left on issues such as health care and banking reform and spend money from her once brimming war chest. Her campaign says she has raised $9 million but is now low on money.
The race — one of the most expensive in state history — has been a nationally watched roller-coaster ride for the two candidates, who have constantly attacked each other.
Third party groups — MoveOn and unions such as Service Employees International Union for Halter; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security
for Lincoln — have spent millions on television ads, mailers and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the SEIU will have 200 people on the ground Tuesday working for Halter, who has
campaigned on a “Washington is broken, change is needed” platform. “The fact is that if you send the same people, you’re guaranteed the same results,” he Sunday in an interview with Politics Daily. “People are responding to that message. The incumbent is so tied up and beholden to special interests and voters see that.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, host Candy Crowley asked Lincoln about her campaign. “I’ve spent the last . . . week on our countdown-to-victory tour in 20, 25 county courthouses across the state,” she said. “Bill hasn’t been doing that; he’s been letting other people fund his campaign and do his dirty work and I’ve been out there with the people.”
The Halter campaign struck back Monday morning. In a press release, it pointed out that Lincoln has taken $1.2 million from Wall Street, more than $49,000 from credit card companies, benefited from more than $3 million in ads from shadowy Republican front groups, and is the top recipient of oil and gas money — including $19,000 from Gulf Coast polluter British Petroleum — and $558,375 from oil-and-gas industry PACs. “She continued to accept more than $40,000 from Wall Street interests as well as contributions from British Petroleum lobbyists during the runoff,” the release said.
Halter has also criss-crossed the state. A seven-day tour continues Monday, which he’ll finish up after midnight at an International House of Pancakes.
Lincoln’s campaign strategy has been to tout her seventh-generation Arkansas roots and her position as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She is the first woman and first Arkansan to chair that panel. She also aligned herself with President Obama, who endorsed her with a radio ad
and appeared on mailers for her. This is a risky move for Lincoln. Obama is not widely popular the state, which he lost by 20 percent to John McCain in 2008. Halter supporters, in fact, align more with Obama’s change message than Lincoln’s do.
On Memorial Day weekend, Bill Clinton
campaigned for Lincoln in Little Rock. He aggressively attacked out-of-state liberal groups and unions for supporting Halter and interfering with Arkansas politics. In her one of her closing ads last week, Lincoln targeted those special interests and told voters she would rather lose this election “fighting for what’s right than win by turning my back on Arkansas
During the runoff, Halter challenged Lincoln to a televised statewide debate. Lincoln said she would debate when Halter said where he stood on card check legislation. He has yet to do so, and she did not debate him.
While Lincoln activated Clinton, Halter turned to the grassroots support that he first developed in 2006 during his lieutenant governor race. His success with legislation creating a state lottery, which will provide scholarships to thousands of Arkansas college students, was also a campaign asset.
Numerous polls have shown either Democrat losing to Boozman in November.
“While it’s possible Halter, too, would lose, he actually polls better in general election match-ups,” Kerbel says, “which [progressives] feel speaks to their case that the public will reject Democrats who serve monied interests rather than the public interest, which they feel Lincoln did with health care policy.”
Boozman is a five-term congressman from the most conservative corner of the state – Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, which hasn’t voted for a Democratic representative since 1967. In the state’s other three congressional districts, which trend Democratic, Boozman is largely a political unknown to voters.
During the primary, he faced seven opponents but easily won with 53 percent of the vote.
Perversely, the primary and runoff may have toughened up both Democrats for a general election. Halter and Lincoln have almost 100 percent name identification because of their battle.
Still, Lincoln will be the weaker candidate, although her Blue Dog views may lure independent voters away from Boozman. Arkansas is a state, after all, that has only elected one Republican to the senate since Reconstruction. That was Tim Hutchinson in 1996. He lost his seat to Democrat Mark Pryor in 2002.
A Lincoln-Boozman match-up would be a classic battle between two Washington insiders. Both voted for the TARP bailout; both have cast votes that will be dissected and used against them. But in the end, Lincoln would likely lose. Her base, which was weak at the primary’s start, has been severely splintered by the process. Though U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed her in the primary, it would likely jump to Boozman in the fall.
If Halter wins Tuesday, he will continue to push his Washington outsider message — and he can continue to campaign extensively in Arkansas, while Boozman — like Lincoln during the primary — will have to spend time in Washington for congressional business.
One advantage for Halter: He has run five state-wide races — the 2006 lieutenant governor race, which had a primary, a run-off and then the general election, and the senate primary and its current runoff. Boozman has never run a statewide race until the Senate primary this spring.
Boozman will undoubtedly paint Halter as a Nancy Pelosi patsy to progressives in a socially and economically conservative state.
“The object lesson that Democrats may gain from this should Halter win the primary and lose in November is that they would be better off distancing themselves from the unions rather than joining in their cause,” said Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University.