Narratives are important in politics. Think about the presidential races in 2004 and 2008. In 2004, John Kerry couldn’t tell you what he was running on or why other than he was against Bush. Yet he had voted the President’s way on the most significant issue that year-the war-and thus was constantly having to go back and explain himself (and he was pretty bad at that I might add). Thus the narrative of the campaign became the flip flopper vs. the guy who was resolute (among other things I’ll let slide for the time being). In 2008, then Senator Obama and his campaign successfully made the narrative about “hope” and “change” vs. “more of the same” and “the old guy and that nut from Alaska” (I’m paraphrasing). Point is that defining what the campaign is about in simple terms matters, and that goes for every race from the presidential arena down to your local school board elections, and it will matter for primarying Blanche Lincoln (and Mike Ross if we can find a challenger).
Now Blanche is already on to this. A big part of her strategy is to avoid having a primary, getting the ADP and Bill Clinton to muscle Bill Halter out of the way. But if Halter does run, John Brummett has already written a script for her on how to talk out of both sides of her mouth in the course of the campaign. And with her successful work to kill the public option on behalf of the insurance companies and the general consensus among Democrats of all stripes that seems to be forming that we should pass this imperfect but generally positive bill, our work on defining this issue has, admittedly, gotten a little harder (though the public option still works as a good rallying cry in the primary).
But remember, you have to make things simple for voters. Now don’t get me wrong-voters aren’t stupid by any means, and if you think that and campaign like that it shows and voters will react negatively to it-and rightfully so. Voters can understand nuance, but they have other things going on in their lives besides politics (well…most of them…yours truly excluded) and thus you have to simplify things a bit and repeat yourself a lot to make sure things really stick in their minds. That’s why trying to make this campaign about one detail or another of the healthcare bill or about the whole Democratic agenda in Congress isn’t going to work. There’s too much nuance to work with there and someone as slippery as Blanche is bound to come out on top of that.
So here’s the trick for Bill Halter and all the rest of us interested in taking Blanche down from the left-we have to make it all about Blanche Lincoln and keep her on the defensive. Specifically, we have to frame this as the “people of Arkansas” (our team) vs. “big business” (Blanche of course). Every tactic, from attacking her work against the public option, to her opposition of EFCA, to her support of the estate tax elimination, to her vote on free trade deals, to her campaign contributions, plays into that angle. Make Lincoln defend herself on all these things-lord knows she’s bad at it, and make her try to prove that she cares about the people of Arkansas. In a populist state like Arkansas, that narrative will work great.
So remember, tell everyone in earshot that “Blanche Lincoln doesn’t care about you. She cares about big business.” Then roll out your list of offenses.