How Blanche Lincoln Fell So, So Far Behind In Arkansas

As we head into the true crunch time of the 2010 election, the crucial period between Labor Day and November 2, let’s take a look at what might just be the steepest uphill climb for Democrats this fall: Holding on to the Arkansas Senate seat held by incumbent Dem Blanche Lincoln.

Just take a look at the TPM Poll Average to see how much ground Lincoln would have to make up to score a victory in November. The Republican nominee, Rep. John Boozman, is ahead of Lincoln by a whopping 60.3%-31.2%.

The latest poll from Rasmussen makes things look even worse for Lincoln: she trails by an almost historically bad 38-point margin. The previous Rasmussen poll from July showed Lincoln trailing by 25.

How did things get so bad for Blanche? She was first elected to the Senate in 1998, defeating Republican Fay Boozman (brother of her current opponent) by 55%-42% in then-President Bill Clinton’s home state, one of the last Southern states to still hold to the Democrats as their natural party for most offices. Lincoln won re-election again in 2004 with 56% of the vote. But this year appears like it could be very, very different. Indeed, the situation is so serious that the state’s favorite son, former President Bill Clinton, is headed to Arkansas this Wednesday to campaign for Lincoln.

Since Lincoln’s first election, the state has been trending more and more Republican at the federal level. While Democrats continue to dominate state and local office, the state has also voted Republican for president in the last three straight elections – including a whopping 59%-39% for John McCain in 2008. And distrust of the national Democratic Party might now be coming home, especially in a cycle that’s sure looking good for Republicans.

Lincoln was also significantly damaged by the spirited challenge she received in the primary from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Lincoln won by only 52%-48% — and only after Halter had forced a June 8 runoff by taking 42% of the vote in the May 18 primary. That meant three extra weeks of Lincoln getting hammered from the left by Halter, who received strong support from labor unions. Lincoln’s opposition to a public option during the health care debate hurt her with progressives, and her final position — opposing a public option, and helping to pass the final bill that was signed by President Obama and did not include the option — may have served to alienate voters on both the left and the right.

Lincoln has acknowledged this in one of her first ads of the general election, in which she pitches herself as a common sense moderate. “There’s no easy way to fix health care,” Lincoln says in the ad. “But I worked to find the balance — and I’ll never stop working to make it better for Arkansas.”

Lincoln is also pitching herself as a common-sense moderate against the right-wing Boozman, attacking him for wanting to privatize Social Security:

That common-sense moderate pitch has helped many a moderate-to-conservative Arkansas Dem get over the finish line in past elections. And Lincoln has had a cash advantage all year. Through June 30, Lincoln had brought in $9.5 million this cycle, and still had nearly $1.9 million on hand, compared to $1.5 million raised and $483,000 cash on hand for Boozman. But will it be enough for her to overcome a 30-point deficit in the polls?

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