Blanche Lincoln Gets A Democratic Challenger In Arkansas

After months of speculation, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter made it official this morning, announcing he’ll challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln for the Democratic Senate nomination in Arkansas.

“Enough is enough,” Halter said in a video announcing his candidacy posted this morning. “It’s past time to put more Arkansas values in Washington.”Polls have shown Lincoln is unpopular in the state she’s represented in the Senate since first being elected in 1998.

Even with a new Democratic candidate, the TPM Poll Average shows the GOP with a significant lead in virtually all potential matchups. Pitted against Rep. John Boozman, seen by many observers as the strongest candidate in the eight-man field for the GOP nomination, both Lincoln and Halter are behind significantly in recent polls. Boozman is ahead of Lincoln 55-34 in the TPM Poll Average, and he leads Halter 53-30 according to a the latest polling on the race from PPP (D).

But Halter could have a significant advantage in a general election Lincoln would not — the support of national progressives and the Netroots. Lincoln’s voting record over the past year has drawn the ire of national leaders on the left, who objected to her opposition to so-called “card check” legislation and the inclusion of a public option in health care reform. For months, progressive groups have been on the ground in Arkansas, building an organization to help a defeat Lincoln in a primary while urging Halter to run.

Halter could prove to be a formidable primary opponent when he officially files the paperwork to run in the primary against Lincoln tomorrow. He’s a proven statewide Democratic winner, and progressive groups have told me for quite a while now that his entry in the race would give them the best shot at taking Lincoln down. But it’s still not clear what effect the backing of progressive base would have on a Democratic candidate in a general election in Arkansas, where “liberal” is not the first word that springs to mind when considering the electorate.

In his announcement video today, Halter laid out a populist message for his campaign, while taking not-so-subtle jabs at Lincoln. Halter attacked the financial bailouts (“bailing out Wall Street with no strings attached”) and the health care reform process, of which Lincoln has a been central player. He called the reform process so far “protecting insurance company profits instead of protecting patients and lowering health costs.”

“Washington is broken,” Halter said, in a seeming reference to Lincoln. “It’s working for the special interests, not Arkansas families.”

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