In 1982, then former Gov. Bill Clinton was coming off of a stinging defeat in his first reelection try two years before at the hand of Republican Frank White. Clinton made his first political comeback against a crowded field of Democrats vying to replace White in the AR governor’s chair in the Democratic primary that year.
Fellow Democrat and future Governor (from 1992-96) Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton waged a knock down dragout, steelcage, loser-get-out-of-town fight for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Of course, as most of you suspect, Clinton won and held the Arkansas governor’s office for the next decade before running for president in 1992 and defeating sitting President George H.W. Bush.
Ironically, Bill Clinton was replaced as governor of Arkansas by none other than Jim Guy Tucker, then the Lt. governor, next in the line of succession.
What does that have to do with the 2010 U.S. Senate Democratic primary race between sitting two term Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Arkansas’ current Lt. Gov. Bill Halter? Easy, in my opinion, this race has been the nastiest, foulest, most Jerry Springer-like primary race in the Natural State since that 1982 governor’s race.
With incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln having alienated a large portion of the Arkansas electorate for one reason or another, Blanche, or “Blank” as she is known in some quarters of the state, has been considered vulnerable by Republicans for at least two years.
There was Blanche’s let-them-eat cake-like response to questions at a rally a year or so ago. There is the fact that Sen. Lincoln has repeatedly attacked Bill Halter for taking contributions from labor unions, ignoring the fact that according to salon.com, she was supported by labor until the last two years before aligning with the national Chamber of Commerce.
There was Lincoln’s support of the bailouts in the fall of 2008, Blanche’s taking special interest contributions by the boatload from the healthcare industry according to blogher.com, and her on again off again support of the recent healthcare bill to further weaken her support in much of Arkansas.
Bill Halter is a former Bill Clinton appointee in the Office of Management and Budget from 1993-99 and deputy director and acting director of the Social Security Administration from 1999 into the early part of the Bush administration.
For his part, Halter has attacked Blanche Lincoln for supporting the Wall Street and bank bailouts as detailed at sourcewatch.org without indicating how he would have voted on those bills.
Halter is widely disparaged by the Democratic Party establishment in Arkansas, at least by the big muckety-mucks who don’t ignore the man altogether. Ever since taking office as AR Lt. governor, Halter has always seemed to be looking over popular Gov. Mike Beebe’s shoulder as if he was dying to appoint someone or issue an executive order as soon as Beebe was out of state.
Bill Halter’s main claim to fame in the state is that he ramrodded an amendment onto the ballot two years ago to start a state run lottery as outlined on Bill Halter’s website. Neither party wanted the amendment, the Democratic establishment did little to nothing to support Halter or the amendment, yet it still passed.
The Arkansas Lottery began last fall with a highly paid director from South Carolina who, according to arkansasbusiness.com, brought along a bunch of highly paid cronies, leading some cynics to conclude that the employees of the Lottery Commission were the ones who would hit it the biggest in the Arkansas Lottery.
Bill Halter, former valedictorian at Little Rock’s Catholic High, a Truman Scholar at Stanford, and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, surprised most observers by challenging Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary for one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.
Everyone was expecting Blanche to have a crowded field of Republicans to deal with, but few expected her to have more than token opposition in the primary. Halter was obviously bored or frustrated with the do-nothing office of Lt. governor, so here we are with the state’s nastiest primary race in more than a generation.
Halter and Lincoln have traded accusations at a dizzying pace, or at least in ads from advocacy groups, with each accusing the other of sending jobs overseas. Lincoln supported NAFTA and CAFTA, you see and all that’s left, one supposes, is something like a Southern Hemisphere of the Americas Free Trade Agreement, or SHAFTA, ’cause that’s what labor groups think Blanche has given the workers of the state.
As a union member myself, UAW Local 716 in Fort Smith, AR to be exact, one of the chief complaints with Sen. Lincoln is her voting record on labor issues as listed in the New York Times and her recent attacks on Halter for taking campaign contributions from unions.
Ms. Lincoln formerly enjoyed much support from labor and now attacks unions with a sneer on some campaign ads. One ad, as reported on nationaljournal.com, has the senior senator from Arkansas saying of Halter: “BIll Halter gave me his word this would be a positive campaign.” After a slight pause, as detailed in the swtimes.com, Lincoln then sneers “that didn’t last long.”
As detailed in the Washington Post, there is a heinous ad accusing Halter of outsourcing jobs to Bangalore, India for a company he sat on the board of as he made his millions after leaving the Social Security post. The ad has bad actors in Indian accents saying “Thank you, Bill Halter” over and over for sending jobs their way. The truth is the jobs were not moved but created in India to start with.
Halter has hokey ads featuring his old football coach from Little Rock Catholic chasing him around a football field shouting and blowing a whistle.
Such ads are off putting to many Dems and Independents since this campaign has been a mud-wrestling contest from the get-go with both sides being pretty equally guilty.
Most observers believe Congressman John Boozman, the heavy favorite on the Republican side of the 2010 Arkansas Senate race, will have a much easier job in the fall what with Lincoln and Halter having ripped the other to shreds in the Democratic Primary.
Blanche Lincoln is still ahead of Halter in the polls, according to the Tolbert Report by anywhere from 8 to 13% in spite of her fence straddling on labor issues and others. On black radio stations in eastern Arkansas, Lincoln has run ads stressing her ties to Barack Obama while running away from the President in the “tea partyin'”western part of the state where he is highly unpopular.
Bill Halter is widely regarded as a lightweight opportunist and is a Catholic in a heavily Southern Baptist state. Lincoln, who comes from a long line of rich east Arkansas farmers, is definitely more culturally in tune with most of the good ol’ boy network in the state and has been known to go huntin’ with the boys.
Lincoln is widely viewed as the stronger candidate against Boozman, whose older brother, the late Fay Boozman, she defeated in her first Senate run in 1998. The revenge angle will likely be brought up in the fall in the likely event that Lincoln wins the primary.
Blanche Lincoln, was first elected to Congress in 1992 as Blanche Lambert before marrying Dr. Steve Lincoln. She defeated her former boss, “Boogaloo” Bill Alexander, so named for blurting out “boogaloo” in a meeting with an African delegation in front of the press.
Blanche as detailed on arkansasblog.com, knocked out her former boss due to the feeling that Alexander, a long time member of the House, had “gone Washington” and forgotten his roots. Now, many have accused Lincoln of the same thing.
Blanche has an older sister, Mary Lambert, who has directed music videos for Madonna, Sting and other music icons. In her one film credit, Mary Lambert directed Stephen King’s Pet Semetary. For Blanche’s political career not to be buried like the animals in the film, she must defeat Bill Halter in a bitter Democratic Primary.
If Senator Lincoln, supported by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, is to win a third term in the U.S. Senate, she must sweep eastern and central Arkansas to offset Boozman’s advantage in the heavily Republican western parts of Arkansas.
It would help if Blanche Lincoln would keep in mind all the people who put her in her position, mending fences with labor and other offended constituencies. While I can’t imagine labor lining up behind John Boozman, one of the most boring men to ever run for office in Arkansas, if labor does not campaign for Lincoln with enthusiasm, this Arkansas senate seat will likely go to the GOP in the fall.