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Blanche Lincoln and Arkansas Democrats Battle the Red Tide

4 years ago
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The poster child for political jeopardy this year is Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas.

On the surface, it appeared that Lincoln, a seasoned, victorious veteran of four federal campaigns, had adroitly threaded the political needle in preparation for re-election. Since becoming a senator in 1998, she has played the role of independent Blue Dog centrist, often voting against her party to curry favor among conservative Democrats and independent voters back home.

After Sen. Edward Kennedy died, Lincoln became the first woman and Arkansan to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee, a plum position considering agriculture is Arkansas' largest industry.

But less than a month before the midterm elections, Lincoln is in trouble.

Progressives began to criticize her last year. A whisper campaign took root about how Lincoln, who has a home in Virginia with her husband and twin sons, never visited Arkansas.

Lincoln found herself in the controversial waters of the health care overhaul, an issue that she vacillated on but supported in the end. In the spring, she drew two primary opponents and engaged in a bloody battle that she survived in a June run-off.

Dark clouds gathered around Lincoln exactly at the same time that the national Tea Party and Republican rabble-rousing made some inroads in Arkansas, which has been a predominantly Democratic state since the Reconstruction era.

If Lincoln's main primary rival, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, had won, he'd likely be facing similarly troubling prospects.

For better or worse, Lincoln finds herself a victim of Arkansas' changing political climate – at least this year.

"It's just not a good year to be a Democrat, even, apparently, if you're wielding a powerful position in agriculture and representing a state that is by tradition more thoroughly Democratic than nearly any other," said Janine Parry, political science professor at the University of Arkansas.

Lincoln isn't facing a particularly charismatic Republican opponent. Rep. John Boozman has served the Republican-dominated 3rd Congressional District for nine years. The low-key politician easily beat eight other candidates in the May primary. He hasn't run a lot of television ads and has less money than Lincoln.

But Boozman is an alternative to Lincoln, and that's enough for some voters.

In a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, Boozman led Lincoln by 55 percent to 37 percent, with 5 percent undecided. Three percent preferred some other candidate. A Green Party candidate along with an Independent are also on the November ballot.

Lincoln is far from the only Arkansas Democrat in trouble.

Some state legislative seats and constitutional offices that have been Democratic since the 1800s are now considered toss-ups. The Republican Party of Arkansas has fielded its largest slate of candidates ever, from county judges to federal offices.

The state GOP, with help from the Republican National Committee, has also stepped up its grassroots ground game. Alice Stewart, Republican Party of Arkansas senior communications adviser, gives Lincoln credit for making the party stronger.

"This push that you're seeing started with angry voices not being heard by Lincoln during the health-care debate," said Stewart. "People started getting engaged. They went from being concerned to becoming extremely engaged. That's why you had so many Republican candidates in the primary who wanted to take on Lincoln."

Stewart said that enthusiasm trickled down to other races that Republicans have not had much of a chance of winning in prior elections.

A perfect example is the 1st Congressional District, which Lincoln represented for two terms. Rep. Marion Berry has held the seat in the heavily rural district since 1997.

In January, Berry announced his retirement. His chief of staff, Chad Causey, is running against Republican Rick Crawford, a businessman and agricultural broadcaster. Polls show the race to be a dead heat.

The 2nd Congressional District seat, which has been held by Democrat Vic Snyder – Arkansas' most progressive congressman – could become Republican. Snyder decided earlier this year not to seek re-election. Former Bush White House aide Tim Griffin faces Joyce Elliott, a retired schoolteacher and state legislator who beat four opponents in the May primary. If Elliott could pull out a victory, she would be the state's first black representative to Washington. But polls show Griffin leading Elliott by 20 points.

For the last 30 years, Bill Clinton's star power both as governor and president helped to stymie a massive Republican takeover in his home state. He is once again attempting to inoculate against the red tide.

Clinton returns to Arkansas next week to campaign for Lincoln and the Democratic ticket in Jonesboro, a college town in the 1st Congressional District. The district may be the firewall that keeps the Arkansas congressional delegation from flipping to the GOP. Clinton last campaigned for Arkansas Democrats in September. This week, Lincoln began airing a television ad featuring the former president.

Even if Republicans make gains, Arkansas will remain a Democratic state. All constitutional offices are held by Democrats and 87 percent of local elected officials are Democrats, said Joel Coon, Democratic Party of Arkansas communications director.

"Any talk of a Republican takeover of the state is premature and a little silly," said Coon. "This is a crazy year and Republicans are feeling confident in their chances, but they are counting their chickens before they are hatched."

The Republican tide that washed over the South in the 1980s and '90s may finally be rolling into Arkansas. But Parry cautions that it will take more than one election cycle for Republicans to claim domination.

"The Republican bench continues to be miserably shallow, so shallow – I'd propose – that although the current national environment may help build, finally, a sustained Republican apparatus in Arkansas, it might also sweep in some Republican winners who just weren't ready for prime time," Parry said. "That could mean dashed hopes for competitive elections, again, in 2012."

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one thing is very clear right now and should be used as the deciding factor in who to vote for this year.if the republicans had the presidency senate and the house they would want everything their way.the same goes for the democrats.the only way that we the people are going to get out of this mortgage crisis,financial meltdown,and get people back to work is to take total control away from any party and force them to work together.otherwise we will spend more time writing blogs about how screwed up the country is.back door deals and forcing laws down our throats because you are the power in party has to stop in order to get this country moving again.any team sport is a good example.when players work together for the good of the team they win.when you have individuals playing for themselves they lose.that is an undeniable fact.

October 12 2010 at 7:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Do you think that only foreign countries have voter fraud? President Carter needs to monitor American voting polls.Fraud is best implemented when everyone believes it can not happen.The people of America and Arkansas are looking for leadership and look at what and who wants to lead.I would think there would be a better menu to pick from.Maybe it's the party not the person, we change people and we get the same as before. America was sold snake oil last election. People think anyone can run there country, and anyone can run it into the ground.

October 11 2010 at 12:22 PM Report abuse +13 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to zonka420's comment

I think 2004 and 2008 clearly indicated you are correct. Ironically with two different parties.

October 11 2010 at 9:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Arkansas a "traditionally democratic state" went for Ronald Reagan twice, George H W Bush, George W Bush twice and for John McCain. These liberal "journalists" tell so many lies, they're starting to believe them.

October 11 2010 at 11:39 AM Report abuse +21 rate up rate down Reply

everybody seem,s to forget we just went through 8 years of a republician president who outscoursed american jobs overseas,two wars at the same time.our treasury had to borrow from oversea,s and taxes were not paid in.any wonder why we dont have jobs here and why we are in its time to reverse all of those failed out these republicans and their stupid policy,s stop giving tax breaks to oversea,s american corporations get rid of nafta,the wto,g-7,and the chamber of commerce that wants the same thing,s to continue.

October 11 2010 at 11:32 AM Report abuse -34 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to lllcln's comment

The problem is simple. For years the people were led to believe that the Democrats were the party for the working Class America and the republicans represented the wealthy and large business. It is not hard to see that the democrats even when they have total do not represent the working class americans. They spent two years passing one dumb piece of legislation after another which had nothing to do with stopping the forclosures and continued job loses. In the past two years families have watched everything they were able to save and work for be taken away from them while the party that is there to represent them did nothing at all. They had one complete year that they could not used the 41 obstructionists as an excuse. The new Republican party see the opertunity to switch gears from their normal stance to come to the aid of the people. The democrats now see this and worry because if the republicans can put this country back on track in the next two years it will be many years before the people will turn power back to the democrats. They did it to themselves.

October 11 2010 at 11:30 AM Report abuse +27 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Kenneth's comment

the south is conservative including arkansas at one time so was clinton when he went national he became liberal he does not reflect arkansas any more and so neither does the national liberal democrat party the south did not so much abandon the democrat party as the national democrat party abandoned the south. in fact as republican is conservative the south will be republican it will become one party as it was one party before now only the republicin party a national party embracing each regional politics the democrat party went after minorities

October 11 2010 at 11:20 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to zattico's comment

You are pretty much right on target. The Democratic party made the decision many years ago to be the party of the Unions and the elite people. They pretty much no longer reperesent the average, middle income working family. They are tied to the Trial Lawyers (notice no attempt at curbing frivoulous, blackmailing lawsuits in the Obamacare health legislation), Union leadership and people who are net takers or receivers from the tax system. If you want to have freedom to work hard, save your money, invest it to make more, take a risk to improve yourself by going into business to make a better living, the democratice party is not for you.

October 11 2010 at 12:05 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply

No need to comment here today. The people are speaking.....Thank God! We need to continue speaking for years and years to come and not let our country ever face this despair again. It is great to talk with my friends and neighbors of different political parties and enjoy the agreements for fairness and common sense that we share. We are Americans again. We must not become complacent ever again and must see to it that the history of this era be taught to our children in schools and not be redacted by those with an agenda. The majority of the comments on this post today is exciting and more than hopeful.

October 11 2010 at 11:17 AM Report abuse +24 rate up rate down Reply

Turning against fellow Democrats and Party Leaders, especially on critical national issues, is a traitorous character trait. All politics is not local--especially the funding part.

October 11 2010 at 11:10 AM Report abuse -17 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to taus007's comment

This election will have nothing to do with that. They say history repeats itself. This is the carbon copy of the clinton years. His first two years were the worse just like now. High unemployment, high defecate trying to get the economy going, poll numbers below the 50% range. corporations hording cash and buying back stock waiting for the midterms. The midterms came and the democrats lost the house and senate. Clinton and the republicans learned to work together. companies started hiring our economy began to thrive and Clinton was reelected and left office with a surplus instead of a defecate. The moral of the story this economy will remain stagnant until the democrats lose control of the house and possible senate companies feel a democratic congress is not business friendly. They can sit for another election most can not. As for Obama that does not matter he is only president. He could be like clinton and work with the republicans and get his ratings up to get reelected or be voted out in 2012. That will have no effect on our economy one way or the other. Business only is concerned with congress.

October 11 2010 at 9:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

They were all warned if they voted for Obama care they were going to be voted out, maybe now they believe us...Goodbye Blanche!

October 11 2010 at 11:02 AM Report abuse +28 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ricknwinteriors's comment

Blanche Lincoln voted against Health Care Reform. So it makes no sense to say this is why she is losing. She is losing because progressives turned on her because she voted against Health Care Reform. Facrs are facts and stories are stories!

October 11 2010 at 12:03 PM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply

Blanche Lincoln crossed a line, pure and simple. She voted for cloture on Obama's dreadful "health care bill" (which even his own insiders have openly admitted is a gargantuan "wealth redistribution" program.) We told her here in Arkansas early on -- vote for cloture and we will remove you. Ms. Lincoln committed what will soon be learned to be the unforgiveable sin in politics as it will be practiced in the 21st centurey: Ignore your constituents at your own peril. We simply will not tolerate this from Democrats any longer, and the same message is being telegraphed to the Republicans as well. Government serves with our permission, and under our Constitution, we have the duty to "throw off" such government that is given over to rigid, elitist rule. Blanche Lincoln has the high honor of being among the first politicians to get this message. Goodbye to Blanche, and good luck.

October 11 2010 at 10:56 AM Report abuse +23 rate up rate down Reply


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