Things have been changing in Arkansas recently. Politico (and Lincoln herself) even wants you to believe that she is a lefty lefty left left left liberal. One national media outlet even recently claimed that this primary is the beginning of a comeback for Blanche Lincoln. That’s right, she is one tough comeback liberal lefty lady… according to some. Evidence shmevidence.
The Arkansas media knows better. There is a reason for these claims coming out now:
In the Democratic primary, the Arkansas Election Line moves this race from “Leans Lincoln” to “Toss-up.”
Now, during a tough primary challenge from a real Democrat, Bill Halter, Blanche Lincoln suddenly claims she is a flaming liberal.
Blanche wants to be as liberal as Halter
A reporter from Politico asked U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln on Saturday if Bill Halter was more liberal than she.
Her answer two weeks ago would have been pretty much this:
“Oh, yes. Just look at who’s behind him, national labor unions and moveon.org. I’ve always been a moderate, a centrist, a pragmatist, trying to represent the strong independent streak of Arkansas people. That’s why the national liberals have come after me. I think he’s more representative of an extreme national liberal agenda and that it’s an agenda not always in tune with Arkansas Democrats.”
That’s been the essence and mantra of Lincoln’s success over two decades in Arkansas politics. She’s a middle-of-the-roader who gets the business and farm vote while hanging on to traditional Democratic constituents such as African-Americans.
But here is what she said Saturday in answer to that question:
“No. He’s just trying to get elected.”
I don’t know which part of the answer was more jarring — that she wants to be a co-equal liberal with Halter or that she wants to downplay his genuine liberalism or that she believes it serves Halter’s victory prospects to be seen as more liberal.
How did we get to this point?
Well, if you have been paying attention, it is because Bill Halter’s message had been beating hers.
A union backer of Bill Halter responds concisely to the latest Blanche Lincoln smear ads trying to make something evil of union support of Halter and suggest some quid pro quo.
In response to Senator Lincoln’s latest ad:
Bill Halter has promised the AFL CIO that he will not abandon working families.
Lincoln has promised not to abandon the Walton family and John Ed Anthony.
Very simply, Halter’s message is that he will work for Arkansas families while Lincoln has long left them behind for special interests that work against them.
Lincoln is having a tough time trying to fight a message that Arkansas Democrats see as all too true. Lincoln has finally realized that she can’t abandon Arkansas Democrats and remain the nominee. That is why we saw an improved financial reform bill from her. However, this goes against everything we know about Lincoln. Why now? Pretty simple answer here… she is in a Democratic primary against someone who would have capitalized on any watering down of the bill or failure to make it stronger.
This causes a strange predicament for the long time centrist, buck the party Senator.
At the same time, Lincoln is trying to be anti-union, pro-business, liberal, centrist, anti-government, pro-government regulation, a 12 year incumbent and head of the ag committee, a Washington D.C. outsider, responsible for the cleaning up Wall-Street, and not responsible for helping to creating the problem in the first place.
However, Bill Halter is making sure blame goes to where it belongs. Blanche Lincoln voted to undo the Glass-Steagall act in 1999 effectively deregulating the financial system.
Video: Halter Scores Major Points in a Fiery Debate with Sen. Lincoln
And again this issue came up in a question about whether Lincoln has any blame for the problems in the financial market.
“I don’t disagree that we probably could have done that better,” Lincoln was forced to confess. She went on to say that she had no idea the problems created until she looked at it from “the rearview mirror” but that she now has produced “the toughest bill on Wall Street.”
“This is too much Washington behavior,” said Halter. “Claiming credit for addressing the problem after it has crashed the economy. There were plenty of warning signs here. The idea that people in Washington and on Wall Street and in the United States Senate did not know that this market had built up to ten and then hundreds of trillions of dollars? Why not? That’s ineffective oversight.”
Halter made the above statement at an untelevised debate on Saturday which nearly everyone who has commented on it says he won handily. (Update: Blake’s Think Tank has a good round up.)
Bill Halter won it by a wide margin on three accounts, mainly:
First, he challenged Blanche Lincoln to back down from mailers her campaign has sent putting his face in a pill bottle and accusing him of “shady drug deals,” and she wouldn’t. Her defense is that independent groups, unions, mainly, have attacked her, and that she must stand up for herself — a point she repeated to me as we discussed this after the debate. But the issue is not that she stands up for herself or fights back. It’s that those mailers were over the line. Innuendo. Smears. Creepy. “Unbecoming a U.S. senator,” as Halter said to her face, and I must agree.
Second, Halter hit her hard for taking Wall Street money while overseeing part of Wall Street’s activity as Senate Agriculture chariman, and Blanche responded, well, indelicately. She said there wasn’t anything wrong with taking money from soybean farmers, cotton growers, rice farmers. Her point was that Ag regulates those, too. But Halter is fairly smart and he knew to pounce on this unintended likening of Wall Street thieves and good East Arkansas farrmers. As a matter of politcal theater, he floored her by saying it wasn’t farmers who brought this country to economic collapse.
Third, Lincoln spent much of her time hammering that Halter won’t say yes or no on card check, or the Employee Free Choice Act. But Halter is right on this that card check is history and that negotiations have since turned to an incremental reform to give unions a better or fairer chance. Mark Pryor could confirm Halter on this, but he’s for Blanche and probably will say something on Blanche’s side instead in a few days. You see, Blanche wants to make sure the state Chamber of Commerce is sufficiently afraid of this union man in a right-to-work state. But they’re plenty afraid already.
Halter clearly has the momentum and is doing it in Arkansas by being pro-union, pro-Arkansan family, and anti-special interest. All while supporting such things that Lincoln would have filibustered, such as medicare buy ins and the public option, and beating her against the Republicans in general election polls.
All this and below is why the race has been moved to the “toss up” category.
Let’s be clear: this rating is not based upon one debate performance. It is based on the confluence of events occurring in this heated Senate race.
I believe Sen. Blanche Lincoln would win the race if it was today. But it’s not.
Lincoln still has great advantages in terms of ground game, party faithful, name ID, and money.
Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has sewn up many disaffected Democrats. He has momentum and he’s made this race competitive with money and message. We’ll see how well his microtargeting impacts his GOTV effort.
When we first analyzed this race, I was unsure how quickly Halter could implement a viable campaign strategy, raise money or convey a connecting message to voters. He’s done all three with varying degrees of success.
The argument that you can’t win in Arkansas and be more progressive is being thrown out the window. Even Blanche Lincoln realizes that. That is why she is suddenly shucking her centrist label for the liberal one.
If she survives, she will shuck the liberal one so fast for the general election, the right of center Blanche Lincoln will be back in full force.
If you still have any doubt about where Blanche Lincoln’s allegiances lie, the US Chamber of Commerce just released an ad and is buying up TV time in Arkansas to support her in the primary.
Big business or Arkansas working families?