Max Brantley at the Arkansas Blog has been pushing the idea that Halter won due to Republicans voting in the primary. He uses the win by Lincoln in Pulaski County as evidence for this.
More seriously: there’s no doubt liberal money beat up on Blanche Lincoln to Bill Halter’s benefit. But she ended where she started before MoveOn, the SEIU or anybody else had figured out where Arkansas was. She was in the low 40s when she was for card check and before the election season had begun. She ended in the low 40s after she came out against card check and voted for and against health care. Again: Those weren’t liberals voting for D.C. Morrison last night. Many liberals voted for Halter. So did some Republicans in West Little Rock and Grant County and the Delta and elsewhere who thought beating Lincoln now was the best ticket to a Republican victory in the fall. Oh, and please: The most liberal county in Arkansas — Pulaski — went strongly for Blanche Lincoln. The big Hillcrest box, reliably the most liberal in the state, went 725-498 for Lincoln.
Max makes some good points in his post. The Democratic primary was not and is not an ideological fight. Halter did not win simply by getting the “liberal” vote. He won because his message resonated with people from across the political spectrum, unlike Blanche Lincoln. That is not to say that his message resonated with Jason Tolbert, who voted for D.C. Morrison, but that it did resonate with a lot of upset independents and even some republicans.
However, the reason I suspect that Lincoln did so well in these liberal areas was not because he was losing that vote statewide. It was because he was anti-establishment and you don’t get any more establishment than Democrats in Pulaski County. You can see this in the votes for Joyce Elliot. She is not anti-establishment and is one of the most progressive candidates in the race, but won last night by large margins in Pulaski. In another comparison, Arlen Specter won Philadelphia by a large margin, but lost all the rural support to Sestak. It is the same thing. The establishment county went for the establishment candidate.
Halter out performed the polls, which often concentrated on only Democrats (not independents), in south and northeast Arkansas. Halter also did well in some areas in northwest Arkansas, although to a lesser degree. These same areas were the most likely to also vote for D.C. Morrison, suggesting a strong anti-establishment vote.
People are always so quick to suggest some massive conspiracy on the part of Republicans or Democrats to vote in the other primary to mess things up. While people do do that from time to time, it usually comes out a wash because people disagree about who would be the worse candidate. I don’t think the argument that Halter’s win was due to Republicans voting in the Democratic primary holds much water.
Instead, the more simple explanation is more likely the right one. Halter’s people got out the vote better than Lincoln’s people did. Very simple and very likely given the intense support for Halter by individuals. One thing I have seen over the course of this race is that Lincoln relies on paid staffers while Halter relies on volunteers. You can get a lot more done with one staffer and 10 volunteers than with three paid staffers. In short, the most obvious reason is that the Halter campaign and his supporters ran a better ground game and undecideds broke heavily for him.
If I am right here, that would mean that Morrison voters would be more likely to choose the anti-establishment candidate, Bill Halter, than vote for re-electing Blanche Lincoln. I guess we will find out. However, this race will also be won by the GOTV efforts on both sides. Who is most motivated? Who has supporters that will actually do some work to make it happen?