I concluded a recent post about the Arkansas Senate race by suggesting that Arkansas voters are too center-right to re-elect Blanche Lincoln — provided that the Republicans nominate a credible candidate. But are the Arkansas Repubs likely to nominate such a candidate?
They will not nominate a big-name candidate, that’s for certain. To my knowledge, the only big name Republican in Arkansas these days is Mike Huckabee, and he has a bigger race on his mind. The leading Senate candidates are John Boozman and, Gilbert Baker. Neither has the kind of name recognition one would like to see. But given Lincoln’s unpopularity, name recognition is probably not required to be a credible candidate against her.
Boozman is considered the front-runner right now. But it’s not clear what kind of a candidate he would make. I understand that he was barely elected to the state House in a special election in 2001, even with strong support from Huckabee. Since then, he hasn’t had to run a serious campaign. Moreover, he has not shown much abilityas a fundraiser. He raised $680,000 in the first quarter of this year, but half of it was transferred from his House war chest
Baker, a State Senator, has had, if anything, less success raising money. He raised only $155,000 in the first quarter. No other candidate reached $100,000. Lincoln, by contrast, raised $1.3 million in the first quarter and has more than $4 million in the bank. Her primary opponent, Bill Halter, raised $2 million.
So the prospect is that Lincoln will face an under-funded candidate with no demonstrated ability to run an effective state-wide campaign.
To be sure, national money will roll in once the Republican nominee has been determined. But, as I understand it, the NRSC won’t decide where to spend its money until late August or early September, and how much it contributes to Boozman or Baker would depend on how the candidate is polling and whether he has enough money to appear viable.
I’m told that Boozman’s brother Fay, an unsuccessful candidate for the Senate years ago, was the first in a long line of Arkansas Republicans to complain that he could have won if the only the NRSC had given him $1 million. Perhaps things will be different this year, given Lincoln’s vulnerability. But there will be plenty of other tempting races to spend money on.
In sum, while I still think the Republicans have a very good chance to pick up this seat, success is hardly the foregone conclusion one might have expected it to be.
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