The Democratic primary race on June 8 2010 between Senator Blanche Lincoln and challenger Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter is a crucial one for deciding the future of Democratic politics. Lincoln is a centrist-to-conservative Democrat who has not only taken conservative, pro-corporate stances on a number of issues, from taxes to financial sector policy to the public option, but even more damningly, has lied, numerous times, to numerous people. She’s also deeply unpopular and unelectable, as Nate Silver explains:
Perhaps we should ask this question about Blanche Lincoln first. Although it previously appeared that she might have a chance to hold her seat in Arkansas because of the weak field of GOP candidates, she faces very, very long odds now that incumbent U.S. Rep. John Boozman has entered the race. Boozman, in fact, has 56 percent of the vote in that PPP poll to Lincoln’s 33 percent. That’s pretty much off-the-charts bad; no incumbent in any Senate or gubernatorial race in 2006 or 2008 faced anything like that kind of deficit. Lincoln’s approval rating in that poll is also incredibly bad: 27 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove, which is pretty near to David Paterson territory. This is a poll of registered voters, by the way — the numbers among likely voters might be even worse after accounting for the Republican enthusiasm advantage. Lincoln would need a miracle — or for Boozman to have a major scandal or somehow not to be the GOP nominee — to pull this one out.
Bill Halter, by contrast, is a mostly mainstream Democrat – he supports the public option (and potentially a Medicare Buy-in), raising the minimum wage, investing in education, and tough regulations on Wall Street. He has been running to Lincoln’s left, but in mostly conservative Arkansas, has wisely couched that position as the more populist, I’m-on-your-side one, and has sought to cast himself as the opposite of Lincoln, whom he correctly depicts as a selfish corporate tool. He also has significant support from organized labor, who are among the many groups that have been backstabbed by Lincoln, and has some pretty good TV ads too.
The reason why this race is so important is because Lincoln has made backstabbing liberal groups into her favorite sport. Furthermore, she’s one of the most conservative Senate Democrats, and a constant vote for corporate interests at the expense of the people’s. Of the four who killed the public option last year, she’s the only one up for reelection this year. (The others, for our future battle plans, are Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman (both up in 2012) and Mary Landrieu (up in 2014); all our unlikely to win reelection.) This is our one chance to hold her accountable and send a message to other conservative/corporatist Democrats that if they fuck with the people, we will fuck with them back. If Lincoln loses, it’ll send notice to the other conservative/corporatist Democrats that liberals do have power and are not afraid to exercise it. If Halter loses, that message may still be sent, but the conservative Democrats will take comfort in knowing that one of their own still survived.
Thus, while I usually much rather be voting for someone than against someone, this is a lot about Lincoln. In this sense, as long as Halter is saying the right things, he’s good. It doesn’t matter, for instance, that Halter might actually be a closet conservative. Where Halter actually stands and what he’ll actually do once in office are almost irrelevant, because if Lincoln loses no one is going to think it’s because liberals thought Halter was too conservative. What matters is that Halter has staked out a liberal, populist position in contrast to Lincoln’s corporatist one, and the optics of his victory would be an enormous boost to the liberal/progressive cause. We can worry about Halter himself later.
That said, I don’t believe that Halter is really a closet conservative; I think he’s a mainstream liberal – not a true liberal like Bernie Sanders, Marcy Winograd (vote for her on June 8!), or Tracy Emblem (vote for her on June 8!), but a mainstream liberal Democrat like most Democrats serving in elected office. He is at an acceptable level of liberalism and would be a significant improvement over Lincoln even beyond the pure politics of the race. I thus endorse Bill Halter for the United States Senate.
Bill Halter. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Unfortunately, while the latest polls have Halter with a slight lead (1-4 points) over Lincoln, there appears to be no depth to which Lincoln will not sink to hold on to power. For some reason, the idiot elections commissioner in heavily pro-Halter Garland County, Charles Tapp, decided to reduce the number of polling stations in that county from 36 to two, ostensibly to “save money”. In this rural county, it can be very difficult for people to get off work and drive miles and miles to vote. To compensate for this already disastrous situation, Tapp opened a polling place on Saturday, but without any warning kept it closed because he made a last-minute discovery that apparently you’re not allowed to open a polling place without giving five days’ notice to the public. What kind of fucked up law is that anyway?
JUNE 10 2010 UPDATE: And just like that, Halter lost, 48.0-52.0. The Garland County voter suppression is outrageous, though it’s not clear that it was what made the deciding difference in the race. What were probably decisive, though, were all the votes Lincoln got from black voters who mindlessly follow President Obama and, thus, mindlessly supported Obama’s favored candidate, Lincoln. It’s stuff like this that makes me sick:
For all the millions that both sides spent on the bruising Arkansas Senate Democratic primary race, Yvonne Thomas admits she went to the polls not having much of a sense about the candidates.
What she did know, and what turned out to be the only thing that mattered in her decision to cast her ballot for the embattled incumbent Blanche Lincoln, was this: “Obama wanted us to vote for her,” said Thomas, who is African American.
Not just blacks though – liberals can be stupid too:
Where former president Bill Clinton’s endorsement also carried some weight with blacks, it was more crucial in rural Arkansas among white voters, said Arkansas political consultant Stacy Williams. He estimated that Obama’s imprimatur may have added as many as six percentage points to Lincoln’s total, by reassuring African Americans and white liberals.
So ignorant liberals support Obama because they don’t realize how un-liberal he actually is. Un-liberal Obama supports very un-liberal Lincoln. Therefore, liberals support un-liberal Lincoln. Ah, I see. God, what will it take to get people’s heads out of their asses?
We, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, tried taking on the corporations and the Democratic establishments and we narrowly lost. It remains to be seen what kind of effect this has on conservative Democrats. Some gamely argue that, even though Lincoln won, the narrowness of the victory and the difficulty and expense she had in doing so will still produce the sort of chilling effect that we desired. While I’d like that to be true, I’m of the opinion that the conservative Democrats, having put the left wing in its place, will go back to business as usual.