On a rainy, cold Tuesday night before Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln's supporters had even gathered for her watch party, media outlets projected a loss for Arkansas' senior senator.
Indeed, less than 90 minutes after the polls closed, Lincoln called Republican Rep. John Boozman to congratulate him before addressing loyalists at a historic train station next to her campaign headquarters.
She passed on a word of caution to Boozman. "The answers cannot be in the extremes," said Lincoln, a Blue Dog Democrat. "They have to be in the middle."
"I had a very nice conversation with Sen. Lincoln. While we may have disagreed on the issues, we've always wanted what's best for Arkansas," Boozman told supporters. "This race isn't about me, it's about getting a conservative voice in Washington."
Boozman's victory could be seen as an avenged win for his late brother, Fay, who ran against Lincoln in her first Senate bid in 1998. Boozman, 60, is only the second Republican to serve as senator since the Reconstruction Era. Arkansas' last Republican senator was Tim Hutchinson, who was elected in 1996 but lost his re-election bid in 2002 to Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.
It was a tough election year for Lincoln. She faced a brutal and costly primary that ended in a June runoff with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who had union support. Lincoln eeked out a win
, but emerged badly bruised from negative ads.
It also didn't help Lincoln that John Gray
, a Green Party candidate, and independent Trevor Drown
were also on the midterm ballot. Drown peeled away some of Lincoln's Blue Dog support and Grey attracted progressive voters who felt as if Lincoln had abandoned them.
Lincoln, a centrist, fought until the last minute, energizing volunteers Monday night at Democratic headquarters and making campaign stops Tuesday in south Arkansas.
Throughout the campaign, the 50-year-old, seventh-generation Arkansan touted her chairmanship on the Senate Agriculture Committee and stressed that the position oversaw issues such as rural development and child nutrition as well as agriculture.
In the end, her position on the panel didn't matter. Voters chose Boozman, the five-term Republican representative from northwest Arkansas, who stayed under the radar a large part of the campaign season. Lincoln hit Boozman hard on his desire for a national dialogue on a 23 percent flat tax and privatization of Social Security, but the attacks didn't stick.
Lincoln faced a wave of anti-incumbency
, and some of her Democratic base became angry when she would not support the public insurance option during the health care debate. In the end, Lincoln sided with President Barack Obama and voted for health care reform. Boozman painted Lincoln as too cozy with the White House in a state where the majority of voters do not approve of the current administration.
By September, even native son President Bill Clinton couldn't help Lincoln. He campaigned twice
for her during the general election season. He recorded radio ads for Lincoln and appeared in a television commercial. But his message failed to resonate with voters.
For Arkansas, Lincoln's loss will cost the state a valuable chairmanship. In 2009, after the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Lincoln became chair of the agriculture committee. She was the first woman and first Arkansan to hold the position. Agriculture accounts for one in every six jobs in Arkansas and $9.57 billion in labor income. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in July
on a visit to Arkansas that he would place Boozman on the agriculture committee.
Lincoln's political career began in 1991 when she challenged her boss, Rep. Bill Alexander, in a congressional primary. In 1996, she retired briefly to give birth to her two twin sons, but returned in 1998 to run for Senate.
Lincoln broke several gender barriers during her political career. She was the first woman since 1938 elected as senator in Arkansas. She was also the youngest woman ever elected to the Senate in 1998.
She may be out of a job in January but her future isn't grim.
"Sen. Lincoln remains a very young woman who has numerous options in lobbying or in the not-for-profit sectors," said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark. "It's also important to realize that, if she wanted to return to Arkansas, a political future is not out of the question. In 2022, she'll still be in her early 60s, and the disastrous 2010 election cycle will only be remembered by a small percentage of the electorate."