Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) by all accounts is in trouble as her reelection nears, and a primary challenge from her left is unwelcome by even some of her critics. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s primary started officially today and he’s got a surge of progressive organizing, labor union money and online support as left-leaning Democrats attempt to boot Lincoln from office.
TPMDC spoke with several Democratic senators on Capitol Hill today who said the party will close ranks around Lincoln and that she won’t have to worry about rogue endorsements. The Lincoln camp and her supporters will frame the challenge from Halter as “liberal, out-of-state Democrats” and sources familiar with the race said Lincoln will soon roll out high-profile local endorsements to shore up her side. The White House is backing Lincoln and already has done fundraising on her behalf. An Obama aide wouldn’t say today if that will continue.
National Democrats were even more frank, saying Halter’s challenge will force Lincoln to dip into her massive $5.1 million war chest that she will need in the fall against a Republican foe. The Republicans haven’t determined who their candidate will be. Lincoln trails all of them, but none are as well known and the GOPer who comes closest to her in fundraising has just $600,000 cash on hand.
The current TPM Poll Average of this race shows Republican Rep. John Boozman with 52.7 percent and Lincoln with 35.7 percent.“It never helps us to have a primary and if she has to spend all that money in the primary that’s a problem,” a Democratic strategist said in an interview, speaking privately to be able to freely discuss the intra-party battle.
State Democrats admitted in interviews with us that Lincoln’s poll standing doesn’t look good, but they blamed in part the national attention on the race. They said Arkansans recognize Lincoln’s critical role as the new chairman of the Agriculture Committee and will choose her in the May 18 primary – and, Democrats hope, in the fall – with that in mind.
The strategist said Lincoln is as “homegrown” as you can get in the Natural State, and believes that liberal blogger campaigns, MoveOn.org emails and ActBlue fundraising attempts won’t convince the state’s Democratic voters to choose Halter.
An Arkansas Democrat familiar with the race told TPMDC today in an interview the primary could do more harm than good for the party’s causes.
“The movement in the whole country seems to be this anger on the right, and it sure as hell isn’t swinging to the left in Arkansas,” the source said.
The source added: “If they are running to the left, where does that leave them in the unlikely event their efforts are successful? An Arkansas Democrat is a unique Democrat and we’re successful here largely when left to our own devices.”
Sources said privately that Halter is not popular or liked by state party officials and has proven to be a “lousy fundraiser.” Others questioned whether Halter would even equivocally back the things progressives would want. For example, Halter hedged about supporting the Employee Free Choice Act in this interview with Roll Call.
It’s not like unpopular Sen. Chris Dodd’s decision not to seek reelection, a move that helped Democrats breathe a sigh of relief since he was in such trouble in the polls. By stepping aside Dodd (D-CT) helped the party’s chances of keeping his seat blue.
Despite the support from senators including Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), it’s not a sure thing that Lincoln will have united backing from her fellow Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told me he wasn’t sure if some progressives might support Halter.
Kerry said Lincoln has nothing to worry about from her Senate colleagues. “I don’t think there is any risk whatsoever that would happen,” Kerry told me.