In the May 18th Democratic Senate primary in Arkansas, the incumbent, Blanche Lincoln, was unable to get 50% of the vote against her principal challenger, Lt. Governor Bill Halter. According to state electoral rules, therefore, they must compete in a runoff election to be held this Tuesday, to determine the party nominee in November. Although she led in last month’s election (44%-42%), her likelihood of victory on Super Primary Tuesday appears much less certain. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, one reason Lincoln did as well as she did in the May primary, I think, is that she emphasized her effectiveness as a Senator. Unfortunately for her chances this week, a notable example that she listed was an amendment to the financial regulation bill that restricted trading in the derivatives market. Why this turned out to be an unfortunate political exercise is that in their haste to get the bill through the Senate, the Democratic leadership deleted Lincoln’s amendment shortly after the original primary. This ends up making the opposite point than Blanche ‘The Scarf’ intended. It made it pretty clear that she was not a force to be reckoned with by her peers.
Second, her principal supporter is Bill Clinton. Arkansas, his home state, is one of those where he maintains high popularity. Last week, he came to Little Rock to campaign for her. Lincoln’s campaign team decided to cut an ad based upon Clinton’s appearance. A notable feature of the ad was Clinton claiming that the contest was a choice between labor unions based in DC and a sitting Senator from Arkansas. Normally, this might be an effective strategy, in cycles when Senate incumbents win between 70-80% of races. However, already this year, two incumbents (Bennett – CO; Spector – PA) have been defeated in intramural battles. Thus, it doesn’t seem to have much electoral value to brag about her incumbency. Also, the labor unions which are supporting Halter are among the most energized voters. Clinton’s comments may very well pump them up even more.
Third, is the basic nature of elections. Different contests drive different number of voters to show up at the polls. Presidential elections are likely to get 60 – 70% of registered voters to actually cast ballots. That’s because everyone has some feeling about the positions the candidates have espoused, and through the media have some knowledge of both candidates. Elections for federal office that are the least likely for voters to turn out are runoff elections or general elections where the outcome isn’t in doubt. The reason for the low turnout in runoffs is that people who don’t care a lot feel that they’ve performed their citizenship duty by voting the first time.
So who is more likely to vote? As I wrote above, those individuals who are being targeted by the Halter campaign, i.e., union members and people who have become disaffected by Lincoln’s middle of the road, antebellum style will turn out in droves. There are few polling numbers for the runoff, and those are by a less objective source (Kos) than we would like, but they show Halter ahead, 47% – 44%. A key number here is the 9% undecided; if they still haven’t made a decision after two separate contests, they are very unlikely to cast a vote for ‘the Scarf’. Instead, they’ll either stay home or vote for her opponent.
Why are labor unions so opposed to Lincoln? Basically, there are two reasons. First, she has been an outspoken opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act. Unions somehow believe that it is not coincidental that Walmart is headquartered in Arkansas, and that the firm strongly opposes the bill. Secondly, she was one of the first of the few Democrats who was outspoken in her opposition to the public option. So, much as we are witnessing a series of internecine battles among the Republicans, the same holds true in the Democratic Party.
By the way, this is just one of the elections you can come to Right Pundits to get up to the minute information on Tuesday. We’ll be live-blogging all of the Super Tuesday contests right here with our able political team.