After failing to meet the 50 per-cent threshold in the May 18 primary election, incumbent Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln defeated Lt. Governor Bill Halter by four points in the runoff, June 9. Though only marginally progressive as a candidate, Halter’s loss will be a tough pill to swallow for those on the left who fought voraciously to unseat Lincoln.
The Arkansas Democratic primary contest accumulated national attention following Lincoln’s stance against the “public option” during the health care reform debate, and her steadfast opposition to organized labor. The external scrutiny and money quickly became the focal point for the Lincoln campaign, suggesting that Halter’s candidacy represented the meddling of special interests in Arkansas politics.
Despite trailing in the polls, Lincoln enjoyed support from the Party establishment including modest help from the Obama administration, and substantial corporate backing. Former President Bill Clinton was, perhaps, Lincoln’s game-changer, campaigning for the Senator in the days leading up to the election. According to The Associated Press post election roundup, “[Clinton] told voters that out-of-state unions were trying to steal their votes.”
Following the Halter loss, an anonymous White House official told Politico’s Ben Smith, “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise.” The source went on to suggest how they should have spent their money. Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake had some choice words in response.
Referring to Lincoln’s authoring of derivatives trading reform legislation, strategically presented to thwart perceptions of being the banks’ collective pocket, Hamsher had this to say:
…Labor is not your bitch, and their money isn’t yours to direct. They’re supposed to take what, another six years of black eyes from Blanche Lincoln just because you say so? If their $8 million buys derivatives legislation and limits the damage that the Masters of the Universe can do to the world economy in the future, it’s not only a bargain, it also means that a bunch of nurses and janitors have done more to rein in the banks than you and your entire pack of servile, visionless Wall Street lackeys has done since you took office.
Hamsher is also the co-founder of Accountability Now, the “group that bridged Arkansas voters with national support for Bill Halter.”
…[Accountability Now] brought together such organizations as MoveOn, DFA, SEIU, the Steelworkers, and blogs like Daily Kos and Firedoglake with the express mission of organizing national support for challengers to members of Congress whose voting records showed that they were beholden to corporate lobbyists rather than their constituents.
By that measure, Lincoln was well suited to be a target for the group.
As I mentioned at the top, Halter’s loss is a disappointment for progressives, but the news is not all bad. If nothing else, the support for Halter facilitated by Accountability Now — amounting to $3.6 million in mostly small, individual contributions — has demonstrated that a grassroots challenge from the left against a corporate sponsored establishment candidate can be competitive.
Further, Halter’s challenge clearly had the effect of pushing Lincoln in a liberal direction. Greg Sargent aptly stated the bright side shortly after Lincoln was declared the winner (emphasis added):
No matter what you read about this, the Halter challenge was a show of force by the left. Period. If you don’t believe that, ask yourself why Lincoln suddenly found herself backing a tough-on-derivatives proposal in the Senate, why Obama had to cut radio ads and robocalls to save Lincoln, and why Bill Clinton had to come into the state to instruct voters not to listen to unions in order to save Lincoln’s hide.
Lincoln must now face down another national effort to unseat her. She’ll face GOP Rep. John Boozman in November, and though Lincoln has a substantial cash advantage at present, she trails significantly in the polls.
Update: Ed Schultz’s comments on the AR Dem runoff and the foolish comments from the White House. For progressives, Ed says, “This mission will continue.” Watch:
Also, check out this Politics Daily post regarding some dirty pool in Garland County, AR: Lawsuit filed against election officials over the closing of polling places (42 during primary election, 2 during the runoff).
Image via United States Congress by way of WikimediaCommons.org