Blanche Lincoln now has a serious Democratic challenger. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has entered the Arkansas Senate race.
Halter will run to Lincoln’s left. Thus, his entry has led to speculation over whether Lincoln, feeling pressure in the primary, will vote for reconciliation, something she has indicated in the past she will not do.
I’m not sure the question is a momentous one. If 50 has become the new 60, then there’s no reason to believe Lincoln’s vote is critical, as it was for a long time when 60 was the key number.
The extent to which Lincoln will feel pressure will be a function of Halter’s perceived strength as a candidate. I’m told that Halter is not popular with the Arkansas Democratic establishment because he moved back to Arkansas in 2005 to challenge (for a time) popular governor Mike Beebe. However, in 2006 he defeated several establishment candidates for Lt. Governor. Thus, he should not be underestimated.
The question, though, is whether he can find the votes to threaten Lincoln. At the threshold, he needs money. I’m told he will collect little from within his state. I understand that liberals from outside of Arkansas have pledged to raise an initial sum of $500,000. That will get him started, but he’ll need much more to mount a serious challenge.
Is the left willing to sustain Halter’s campaign beyond putting up the table stakes? It’s not clear. Presumably, it will lose interest in him once Lincoln votes on reconciliation. To the extent Lincoln understands this, she shouldn’t feel much pressure. Keep in mind too that the more Halter shows his bona fides as a leftist, the more remote his chances in the general election become. Is Halter willing to serve only as a stalking horse to keep Lincoln in the liberal fold?
Lincoln faces the same dynamic, of course. If she votes for reconciliation, she may clinch the primary, but her chances of re-election at that point presumably would be nil.
Finally, it’s not clear that even a well-funded Halter poses a serious threat to Lincoln. My understanding is that Arkansas Democrats are a pretty moderate lot. The usual leftist suspects — lawyers, labor union loyalists, professors, and blacks — are not sufficiently numerous to from a winning coalition, particularly given the strength of Lincoln’s base in east Arkansas.
So the smart play for Lincoln is to vote against reconciliation. However, Lincoln may have decided it’s time to do “the right thing” and then move on, perhaps to an ambassador post.
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