LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A flurry of radio and television ads hit the Arkansas airwaves Monday, just as early voting began in the state's intense, three-way Democratic Senate primary race.
Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter decided to take on two-term incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in early March. Businessman D.C. Morrison also threw his hat in the ring.
Halter is in the crosshairs of Americans for Job Security -- a pro-business group launched by the insurance industry in 1997. On Monday, the organization launched a major television ad buy that will run until May 14, accusing Halter of being part of a company that outsourced American jobs to India. (Election Day is May 18.)
According to the Halter campaign, the outsourcing claim is false. Securities and Exchange Commission records "do not indicate anything about 'outsourcing jobs to India.' Webmethods is a global company with offices all over the world, and they opened up a development center in India," the Halter campaign said in a statement.
The campaign stressed that the company never outsourced jobs to India at the expense of American jobs, but that jobs in India were added.
Lincoln condemned the ads Saturday in a press release, saying that "they had no place in Arkansas."
"As a victim myself of constant negative attack ads by outside third party groups since early March, I deeply regret that their participation in this campaign isn't more constructive," she said.
However, Lincoln has made the same outsourcing assertions against Halter in direct mailings and television ads:
The Arkansas AFL-CIO also blasted the ad as "filth." The group has endorsed Halter but endorsed Lincoln in 2004. The AFL-CIO did not endorse her in 1998 during her first Senate bid.
"The Arkansas AFL-CIO finds the latest ad from the oddly named Americans for Job Security to be highly offensive, not only is it filled with lies it is horribly racist and promotes stereotypes," the group said in a release.
President Obama and Bill Clinton also joined the political fray with radio ads touting Lincoln.
Last week, a flier featuring Lincoln and Obama hugging each other was circulated at a Democratic Second Congressional debate. Obama lost Arkansas to Sen. John McCain by 20 points.
Some political watchers have questioned whether Obama helps or hurts Lincoln in Arkansas.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has purchased $400,000 in ad buys in support of Lincoln, while the Service Employees International Union has launched a $1 million ad campaign in support of Halter.
"I don't recall an Arkansas contest where they [third party ads] have been as 'front and center' as they appear to be in this one," says Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University. "In large measure, that's because we haven't had that many really competitive statewide contests in recent years."
Still, Bass says Lincoln may be hitting her stride. A Daily Kos poll last week showed Lincoln leading Halter by 43 percent to 35 percent with 7 percent preferring another choice and 15 percent undecided.
That seven percent may find their candidate in mystery man, D.C. Morrison.
Morrison, a business owner, has never run for office nor been heavily involved in politics. At the first debate between the three of them, Morrison said he thought global warming was a hoax. He also suggested that Lincoln had been in office too long and said that senators should have a 12-year term limit.
Morrison's campaign signs tout him as a "conservative" Democrat. He attended Arkansas' Tea Party rally on April 15 and passed out a plain-Jane flyer on gray paper with simple type.
With Morrison in the race, politicos say that the race will likely go to a June 3 run-off.
Lincoln announced Monday she would hit the road for "Standing Up for Arkansas Jobs" tour.
Halter averages two town halls a week and also will be hitting the trail, including some town halls, later this week.
The Halter campaign has criticized Lincoln for being absent from Arkansas too often. "The same day Sen. Lincoln was scheduled to meet with Goldman executives in New York, Lt. Governor Bill Halter began a two-day trip to eastern and north-central Arkansas," the Halter campaign said in a release last Friday.
"You shouldn't need an appointment or a contribution to meet with your Senator," Halter said in the release. "If elected, I will hold a town hall in every county in Arkansas, and I will put my schedule online so Arkansans can see who I'm talking to. I'm calling on Sen. Lincoln to be open and transparent about her schedule."
So far, Lincoln hasn't announced where her tour will stop.
Eight Republicans are vying for their party's nomination. Polls show Rep. John Boozman in the lead.
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