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Mitch McConnell Campaigns for Blanche Lincoln Challenger John Boozman

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Does the secret to a November win in Arkansas’ Senate race lie in the Senate Agriculture Committee?

Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who chairs the committee, has campaigned heavily on her agricultural ties in a state where agriculture is the largest industry. Now, Republican challenger Rep. John Boozman seems assured of a seat on that important panel if he defeats Lincoln in November.

“He will be on the agriculture committee from day one,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky following a fundraising luncheon Tuesday for Boozman. “I have the ability to do that.”

Katie Laning Neibaum, Lincoln’s campaign spokesman, countered, “If Congressman Boozman thinks that the blessing of a Kentucky senator is enough to convince rural Arkansans that he is a qualified replacement for the fiercest advocate they have ever known, he will be surprised.”

Agricultural themes played a big role in the primary and will undoubtedly do so in the November general election. Arkansas is the country’s No. 1 rice producer, ranks No. 2 in poultry and eggs, and No. 3 in aquaculture and turkeys.

A recent Rasmussen Poll shows Boozman, an optometrist, leading Lincoln by 61 percent to 32 percent. Still, polls often showed Lincoln trailing her primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, and she squeaked out a win in a June 8 runoff.

Lincoln grew up on a farm in eastern Arkansas and touts herself as a seventh-generation Arkansan. In the primary, a “Lincoln Ag Team” of farmers campaigned for her. She is the first Arkansan and the first woman to chair the panel known formally as the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

McConnell and Boozman argued that Arkansans would gain a stronger voice on the Agriculture Committee with Boozman as a low-ranking member than with Lincoln as chair. That’s because Boozman’s votes align more with Arkansans’ interests than Lincoln’s, they said.

For example, Boozman pointed to Lincoln’s support of health care reform legislation, saying it will have a “devastating effect on rural hospitals, the very ones that our family farmers depend on the most.”

The Lincoln campaign countered McConnell’s visit with a press release called “Two of a Kind,” tying Boozman to McConnell, the “ultimate Washington insider.”

But neither candidate can run as a Washington outsider. In the primary, Lincoln mailers featured her with President Barack Obama and the president also cut a radio ad for her. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Lincoln at a rally on Memorial Day weekend. Boozman has served in the House since 2001.

The Lincoln release said that Boozman has voted at least 19 times against extending or expanding unemployment benefits. Boozman countered, saying Lincoln had voted with her party 95 percent of the time.

The release also claimed McConnell and Boozman are obstructing Lincoln’s $1.5 billion disaster package, which would “protect Arkansas’s 270,000 agriculture jobs and give farmers the certainty they need to stay in business after suffering devastating crop losses due to severe weather last year.” Lincoln’s Senate office also announced that she had secured nearly $34 million in USDA conservation money to help landowners and producers within the Mississippi River Basin voluntarily implement conservation and management practices.

Last week, McConnell said he would not vote for Solicitor General Elena Kagan to become the next justice on the Supreme Court. Boozman echoed McConnell, saying, “There’s a real question about her experience.”

McConnell focused heavily on Lincoln’s health care vote during his 30-minute media availability at the Republican Party of Arkansas headquarters.

During the primary, Lincoln said in a television ad she was the deciding vote on the passage of the health care reform bill. After the June runoff, she clarified that statement, saying she was one of five Democratic senators who worked on getting a consensus.

“One vote can make a difference,” McConnell said. “If one of the 60 had chosen not to support that bill, it wouldn’t have passed.”

Boozman faced seven GOP contenders in the May 18 primary and won with 53 percent.

For the last 10 years, he has represented the Republican-dominated 3rd District in the northwest corner of the state. Voters in the other three districts, all with Democratic representatives, may recognize Boozman’s name but know little else about him or his voting record.

One criticism of Lincoln prior to the primary was that she didn’t visit Arkansas enough, staying in Washington and Arlington, Va., where she has a home with her husband, Steve, a doctor, and her two teenage twin sons.

She got the message. Lincoln’s bitter primary battle and subsequent runoff forced her to crisscross the state repeatedly to woo voters. This past weekend, she attended numerous Fourth of July parades and events.

McConnell doesn’t concede that Arkansas is a sure win for a Republican this fall.

“It’s too early to spike the ball in the end zone,” he said.

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Written by suziparker1313

March 6, 2011 at 10:14 pm

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