Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 26, 2010

LINCOLN BLAMES HALTER.... Of the sure-fire pickups for Senate Republicans, only one seat is held by a Democratic incumbent. That, of course, would be Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln (D), who's definitely going to lose.

At this point, Lincoln is no doubt aware of her fate, and has already begun offering explanations for her political downfall. One in particular appears to be her favorite.

Beleaguered Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln says she would be in a dead heat with Republican Rep. John Boozman if it were not for the draining Democratic primary challenge she fought off this spring.

Speaking to Arkansas Public Radio in Little Rock on Monday, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee appeared to blame Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and the swarm of outside groups that backed his insurgent bid for her current perilous political position.

FM-89 reporter Kelly MacNeil asked Lincoln whether she thought she would be even with Boozman now if "it weren't for that tough primary." Lincoln replied, "Yeah, oh yeah ... I believe I would."

I suppose it's only human nature to start coming up with rationales for failure, but this really isn't compelling. In January, several weeks before Halter stated his intentions, Public Policy Polling showed Lincoln trailing Boozman by 23 points, 56% to 33%. As a rule, when an incumbent falls below 50%, it's a sign of potential trouble -- and Lincoln barely topped 30%.

I suspect Lincoln would respond that her campaign could have closed the gap over the course of the year if it weren't for the Halter distraction. That strikes me as backwards -- when a scandal-free incumbent enters an election year trailing by 23 points, it's evidence that the party primary probably should have gone the other way. Lincoln's fate seemed entirely obvious all year. Would Halter have done better? It's impossible to say for sure, obviously, but he's bound to have been in a better position right now than the incumbent.

For what it's worth, I was re-reading some general advice I recommended Lincoln consider a year ago, and I still think it was the better option. As Arkansas has moved sharply to the right in recent years, Lincoln didn't stand a chance aiming for some amorphous middle (to the right of her party, to the left of Republicans).

I suggested last November that Lincoln give ambitious populism a shot, positioning herself as a Kennedy-like guardian of those suffering under the status quo.

Arkansas has a high percentage of low-income families, struggling to get by. They'll never vote Democratic on cultural and/or social issues, but they're open to the Democratic message on economic policy -- looking out for working families' interests. A candidate who positioned herself as a populist people's champion had a better shot than an apologetic Democrat who hopes Republicans won't mind her party affiliation.

Lincoln chose a more predictable course, and now she's going to lose.

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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I suspect Lincoln never gave the economic populist appeal a thought. She's widely referred to as the Senator for Walmart by the DFH crowd she's blaming for her problems.

If she'd even hinted she was ready to talk about economic justice, the Walton family would have buried her.

Posted by: xaxnar on October 26, 2010 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

I, for one, laugh and the impending retirement of Senator Lincoln (AZ-Walmart).

Good riddance.

Posted by: Trinity on October 26, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

A Democratic Party without Lincoln might, perhaps, become a better Democratic Party.

Posted by: Jack Lindahl on October 26, 2010 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Dead and gone to pork heaven

Blanche: Why, they told me to take a streetcar named Desire and then transfer to one called Cemetery and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.

Posted by: koreyel on October 26, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

As a Democratic Senator Lincoln was such a wuss just meant that those that wanted her to be a stronger Democrat felt the need to look to Halter.

While ultimately these touch political time, a Democratic Senator in a red state was going to have problems and might have still lost, she would have been much stronger with all Democratic voters behind her from the get go as opposed to looking for someone who may have been a better advocate.

Posted by: ET on October 26, 2010 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Finding herself out of a job even after sabotaging her own party on numerous issues, her experience might be a lesson for other Dems who think that appearing more "center-right" will guarantee re-election.

Newsflash, guys: Selling out your party only makes you a loser. Sticking by your principles and doing what's right for the people you serve will at least give you a legacy of honor. You'll still get your nice pension so just do it, ok?

Posted by: Curmudgeon on October 26, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"he's bound to have been in a better position right now than the incumbent."


"This is President Barack Obama and I want to tell you why I support Senator Blanche Lincoln for re-election in the Democratic Primary on Tuesday, May 18th" (via Lincon's website)

I recall that polling (for what that's worth) seemed to indicate that Halter would have indeed been the stronger candidate. That being said, 'political capital' was spent by the WH defending the fairly indefensible. Do people regard this as: a) a mistake b) the right decision that had to be made c)a decision symptomatic of Democratic 'leadership' or d) none of the above?

Posted by: shroup on October 26, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Curmudgeon, I'd like to believe that selling out your party can never be a wise strategy for getting elected, but it seems that Joe Manchin might win in West Virginia that way.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on October 26, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Ms. Blanche will doright nicely as a lobbyist for WallyWorld International.

She can be the conduit for all those bucks that they will funnel to their new senators.

Posted by: Roger on October 26, 2010 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe I didn't understand the statement correctly, but Bayh's seat in Indiana is almost certainly going to the Republican Coats.

Posted by: Paris Sailin on October 26, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Lincoln was political toast much prior to her primary challenge, she just doesn't know it! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on October 26, 2010 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Blanche Lincoln's fate is a perfect example of the problem w/DNC-brand Democrats: if people want to vote for Republicans, then they'll vote for Republicans, not Dems acting like Republicans.


Posted by: Zorro on October 26, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Bye Blanche, it's been real.. Thanks for that public option, Douche!

Posted by: Trollop on October 26, 2010 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Oopsie, I see that qualifier that doesn't apply to Bayh is "incumbent."

"Never mind." - E. Latella

Posted by: Paris Sailin on October 26, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Just for the record, I don't think it's so much accurate to say that Arkansas is swinging to the right. Eastern elitist John Kerry did relatively well there in '04. The swing is more in line with the rest of the Appalachian Valley, which, at a time most of the rest of the country was making a substantial move to the Democrats, went sharply GOP in '08, and I don't think a sudden aversion to capital ggns taxes is the explanation. This part of the country dislikes Obama for his ethnicty, period; Lincoln was going to have issues simply for being a Democrat with Obama as president no matter what she did.

I do, however, agree that a more populist approach would have been a smarter way to play this electoral environment. But Southern Dems don't seem to get that -- most of them are firmly in the Deficit Reduction Uber Alles camp.

Posted by: demtom on October 26, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Well. Maybe she shouldn't have tweaked off the base until they decided to primary her.

Posted by: Anthony Damiani on October 26, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

If dim memory serves, Blanche got a HUGE boost from Slick Willy, who campaigned for her against Halter with the enthusiasm he does so well. Without him, and an unseemly snub by the White House at an Arkansas dinner (executed by the First Lady, who I want to believe was an innocent in this, but who somehow introduced ALL elected officials on the dais EXCEPT Halter), Halter might have won and the seat might be within reach now. For some reason, the current and former Democratic presidents decided to dump that seat (as Steve points out, she was a goner in the polls from the start). Explanations, anyone?

Posted by: SF on October 26, 2010 at 6:12 PM | PERMALINK

Sen. Lincoln blaming Bill Halter for her defeat is like blaming that open artery for the fact that you're bleeding profusely. What' important is why that opening happened in the first place. Lincoln honked off labor and progressives in her own state, and as several people have observed, she was already in electoral trouble. Halter's candidacy, and the support it received, was a symptom of a bigger problem, which is that Lincoln had used up most of the goodwill of her base.

Posted by: Cujo359 on October 26, 2010 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, and friends: If Obama and crew had supported Halter instead of shunning him for being a "progressive", maybe he'd be ahead now ...

Posted by: neil b on October 26, 2010 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

neil b: He might very well have been; we'll never know now. But the fact is, political parties defend their incumbents. Lincoln is the incumbent, so they defended her. Arguably, it was a politically stupid move, but it's basically what a party is supposed to do.

When you want a new-comer to unseat the incumbent in a primary, it's up to the challenger and the challenger's supporters to push it through, because you know the party isn't going to. That's just how party politics work.

Posted by: Shade Tail on October 26, 2010 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting, I respect it but I'm not convinced it's good practice for a party to necessarily defend the incumbent in a primary - they should defend the one most likely to win, right? In any case, supposedly Halter was "hippie punched" out of the way, more than just not being the incumbent.

Posted by: neil b on October 26, 2010 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

And now Halter is asking all his past supporters to help Elaine Marshall in NC. So, please do, if you can.

Posted by: exlibra on October 26, 2010 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

"Explanations, anyone?"
Posted by: SF on October 26, 2010 at 6:12 PM

FWIW, my recollection at the time was that it was essentially the cost (to the WH) of securing Lincoln's going along with HCR last winter and spring. I don't know if anyone ever claimed it was ever articulated as a literal squid-pro-quo, but that in context, that's what it pretty clearly amounted to. There might have been one or two other bennies to the admin from her as well.
That's our Prez, changing the way things get done down in Warshington...

Posted by: smartalek on October 26, 2010 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Lincoln is getting what she deserved because she is utterly unscrupulous and disingenuous, and absolutely shameless when it comes to what she's willing to say.

Unfortunately, it means a turd like Boozman will get elected. For anyone who isn't familiar with Northwest Arkansas, our politics is dominated by bluenose Benton County Republicans who think "Christian businessman" is one word and still have the sticks up their asses they got for graduation at Bob Jones University.

Posted by: Kevin Carson on October 27, 2010 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

B.Lincoln deserves to lose.

Posted by: MLJohnston on October 27, 2010 at 6:37 AM | PERMALINK

Lincoln is no loss. The seat is the loss. The dopes who voted for her in the primary are the equivalent of the tea baggers who nominated several unelectable candidates.

Posted by: Bob on October 27, 2010 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK



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