For nearly six years, I’ve been looking forward to Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln’s defeat in 2010. Indeed, I’ve been so fixated on the matter that a reader once asked whether Lincoln ever turned down a date with me.
My long wait (for the defeat, not the date) may be just about over. For it is likely that, contrary to my initial expectation, Lincoln will be the loser in her primary contest against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. I base this view in part on polls showing Halter ahead in the run-off with Lincoln (note too that Halter out-performed the polling results in the initial primary) and in part on this report from the ground by one of our Arkansas readers:
It doesn’t look good for Blanche. First, her TV ads are all over the place. She started months ago with several ads running against Washington D.C. and her own party. (In fact, that pose started with President Obama’s speech to the Democratic senators, where she notably challenged him.) In the immediate aftermath of the primary, she ran ads embracing the president, the stimulus, and health care. Now, she’s back to being an independent voice, saying she’d rather “lose this election doing what’s right for Arkansas.” Not pretty.
Second, she’s short of money. Her campaign manager sent a plea for money late last week, saying she couldn’t fully fund her GOTV effort. How did this happen? She maxed out lots of donors through the primary, but they gave $2,400 for the primary and general and nothing for a runoff. According to a friendly election lawyer, she can’t simply convert the general account to a runoff account. (I don’t understand why, since they are both separate elections, but I trust her.)
Third (and related), the unions have spent a mind-boggling amount of money here. Some accounts say over $6 million, which I assume is mostly TV. And their GOTV campaign is the best ever seen in the state. Sustained, personalized contact is the best GOTV technique according to both political scientists and operatives, and I know many folks who have personally received multiple visits or calls from live human beings they actually know. Unions have so few members here that they can barely carry a few state House districts. But mobilized in a concentrated fashion, they’re a powerful ground team.
Finally, all the anecdotal evidence points to Halter. I see his signs all over the place, hardly any for Blanche. She’s spending time in places like east AR (her base) and northwest AR (not many Dems there), while he’s all over the state in swing counties. And it’s hard to find anyone who thinks she’ll win.
Maybe she will; it’s always hard to predict turnout in a runoff. John McClellan came back to beat the young David Pryor in the 1972 runoff. But I think a Halter blowout (54-46 or more) is more likely than a Blanche squeaker.
If Halter wins, it will be a blow to Bill Clinton, who apparently is campaigning his heart out for Lincoln in his former home state (no backing away from endangered candidates for him, unlike with some presidential Dems). It will also be a victory for the Democratic left. For it will have sent a message to other Red State Democratic Senators (e.g. Ben Nelson) that there is a substantial risk associated with failing to vote the party line on matters of high importance to the left.
By the same token, though, it may also be a victory for Republicans, who could find it easier to knock off Senators like Lincoln and Nelson if such Senators feel compelled to vote left across-the-board on important issues. I’m hoping, moreover, that Republicans will do well enough in this election, and in the Senate elections of 2010 and 2012 when they will be defending comparatively few seats, that we won’t need to rely on the Blanche Lincolns and the Ben Nelsons any longer.