We’ll find out next week if Bill Halter is going to step up and challenge Blanche Lincoln, or run for the U.S. House or reelection. By now, everyone in these parts knows all about how we’re pushing him hard to get into the senate race, so I’m not going to spend too much time talking about AR-02 or reelection, other than a few quick, if unconventional, observations about the two. First, looking at AR-02, Halter would be a great general election candidate for the seat, but there is no guarantee now that he’d make it through the primary, with Joyce Elliott and Robbie Wills having staked out major territory, and the energy surrounding an AR-02 run isn’t there and won’t be there for him the way it will be in a primary challenge to Lincoln. A reelection bid, on the other hand, will be a sure thing in the short run, but wouldn’t necessarily guarantee his political future down the line. If Halter passes on this, the next shot to move up is in 2014 when he’s term limited and the governor’s office is up for grabs. That seat will be wide open, and if Halter passes on the senate bid there are no guarantees that the following he’s gained will wait for him for four years. Dustin McDaniel, while he has some rather unsavory establishment, good ol’ boy roots, is reasonably progressive and generally well liked by the base and the state party bosses alike, which would make him formidable. And there’s always the chance that Martha Shoffner and Mike Ross will be running, which further complicates the way forward for Halter in that race. So what makes the most sense then is to accept that when you’re hot in politics you have to strike, and thus Halter should make this bid against Lincoln, especially considering that winning is a very real possibility.
To win in politics, you need the “Three Ms”-money, machine, and message. The last one will be up to Mr. Halter, but the other two won’t be a problem. The only strength Lincoln seems to have these days is her money. But it’s important to note that she can’t use all of her seven million in the primary, and she may well have maxed out a number of donors, mostly from big corporations and PACs. Halter though will have financial support from individuals, unions, liberal organizations, his previous fundraising efforts, and probably environmentalists if Lincoln continues to irritate them. Arkansas is a small state where retail politics (something Lincoln sucks at) is decidingly more important than ad buys, but still, Halter will need to raise at least one million and burn through it quickly after this late start, and that’s very doable. As far as “machine” or organization goes, Halter will have that as well. It won’t come from the state party for sure, but it will be there. There are already countless activists lining up to knock on doors and make phone calls for Halter-something Lincoln really doesn’t have at this point-and for all the knocks unions take in this state they are good at providing workers come election time and getting their members to the polls.
But what about the path forward?
In 2004, Lisa Burks, who had less name recognition and money than Halter has and will have, took just over forty-seven thousand votes against Lincoln, which amounted to 16% of the vote in the primary in a year where Lincoln was running strong. By now, that anti-Blanche sentiment that Lisa tapped is much, much stronger within the primary electorate, and black Arkansans are really irritated with Lincoln’s condescencion by this point and thus there’s potential for them to throw their backing to an insurgent challenger. There’s also a lot of potential for tapping new voting pools-young voters aren’t about to be excited by Lincoln, and if I were Halter I’d hit every university in the state with organizing and voter registration efforts in the first two weeks of the campaign…and there’s no telling what kind of potential the growing population of hispanic Arkansans offers in western Arkansas, a region of the state that’s never been too keen on Lincoln in the first place. Add to that a big effort in vote rich areas for Democrats like Little Rock and Fayetteville (while not neglecting the rest of the state mind you-that would be a Mark Campellesque disaster) and you have a terrific formula for victory.
In the general election, Halter will be the stronger candidate. Lincoln is most likely going to lose, and we’ll stand a better chance with a fresh face who’s gotten real results for Arkansas. The environment for Democrats come November will not be the same as it is now, especially if the economy improves as expected and Democrats actually start passing parts of their agenda. Arkansas will still be tough territory for Lincoln though as her problems go much deeper than just dissatisfaction with the economy or Obama-there’s a deep resentment toward her by this point on all sides. That’s why we need a fresh face come November, and someone with Halter’s record would only strengthen our hand.
Now, even if Halter goes for this and loses, it’s not the end of the world for him. In fact, in adds something to his brand. He solidifies his reputation as the guy that challenged the machine and (if the worst case scenario happens and he loses this bid) he’ll have a large following that won’t forget the effort come 2014 or 2016 if he decides to run again. In the end, Halter can win this, and even if he doesn’t win the Senate race running can only help him in the long run.