Derivatives, Bubba and shoe leather — the Democratic candidates in the Arkansas Senate runoff are going to be pounding the pavement and pulling out all the stops in the final 15 days of campaigning. Sen. Blanche Lincoln is bringing in the big guns for a kickoff rally Friday with former President Bill Clinton in Little Rock. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter has a progressive army on his side as national groups and labor unions send supporters his way to help knock on doors and get-out-the-vote.
Both camps say they can do a better job of getting their voters to return to the polls June 8, but statistics prove runoffs are tricky business.
In the meantime, buckle up. It’s about to get a lot nastier. The state’s favorite animal is a razorback, after all.Arkansas Democrats were divided in the May 18 primary, with Lincoln pulling in 45 percent of the vote and Halter earning 43 percent. Conservative Democrat D.C. Morrison earned 13 percent, and both sides think those voters are up for grabs.
“Those voters probably do align more ideologically with Senator Lincoln than they do with her opponent,” said Lincoln spokeswoman Katie Laning Niebaum. She believes that conservatives turned out in last week’s primary to vote in some of the down-ballot races. But Halter told me in an interview last week he thinks he has a good chance at winning over those voters since 55 percent of the Democratic primary electorate picked someone other than Lincoln. He also thinks his strong geographic showing in rural and urban areas will help him June 8.
Lincoln last week decried “outside groups” spending money on the race and called on Halter to stop negative campaigning, but she’s got a few of her own the Halter camp doesn’t like. As we’ve reported, one Lincoln flyer sent to Democrats’ homes accused Halter of sending jobs to India, and featured an image of the Taj Mahal.
Greg Sargent today posted Lincoln’s opening salvo in the runoff, a television attack ad claiming Halter “put profits before Arkansas” by outsourcing jobs to India even though there is no proof any American jobs were cut.
Here’s another eyebrow raising mailer sent in March by the Lincoln campaign. Niebaum defended the ad, which has Halter’s face on pill bottles and trying to link him to lawsuits against InterMune and Threshold, saying the facts were documented. But the Halter campaign says it is false and pushed back with a fact check. Team Halter said though Halter served on the board of one of the firms mentioned in the mailer, he wasn’t named in the drug company’s lawsuit and had nothing to do with another firm’s scandal. Halter complained to me about the use of his image on a prescription drug bottle, saying it was over the top.
I asked Team Lincoln about the mailer and noted that the senator is the one who asked for negative hits to stop, and they responded by sending me two anti-Lincoln mailers paid for by a group called Working America, the political arm of the Halter-supporting AFL-CIO.
You can view those mailers here and one image below.
Niebaum says the flyers are “clear smears” on Lincoln’s record since they state that she “voted with the insurance companies” 13 times. The AFL-CIO mailers do twist the facts, citing votes on health care reform in a misleading manner. She voted for the Senate bill. The Wall Street mailer which says she sides with big banks also fails to mention that Lincoln voted against the second TARP measure.
As for strategy, both camps will attempt to keep turnout high, though state officials say it could drop by 50 percent from last Tuesday. While Halter tries to keep his voters engaged, Lincoln is doing an early voting push starting June 1, a duplicate of the successful effort they used for the primary. Neibaum said their camp believes most runoff voters are Democratic activists, senior citizens and women, groups which “certainly favor Senator Lincoln.”
President Obama — who has not stepped foot in the Natural State since 2007 — recorded a radio ad for Lincoln but has no plans to campaign for her. She’ll need to be in Washington for votes this week, but Lincoln will be able to use the Senate’s Memorial Day recess to campaign full time in the final stretch.
Over the weekend progressives held “emergency organizing meetings” in Little Rock and Pine Bluff to plot out their final strategy. A spokesman from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said their group partnered with the campaign and other groups to organize 54,000 calls to voters in one day, added to 100,000 voter calls the day before.
The Halter camp issued a memo to reporters this weekend in which Campaign Manager Carol Butler mocked Lincoln for claiming on Election Night to have been counted out and considered the underdog, since Halter was considered a longshot for his entire candidacy. She also held a strong lead heading into the primary.
“Senator Lincoln’s claim to an ‘underdog’ status is simply ludicrous,” Butler wrote, adding that voters who went with Halter and Morrisson “wanted a change.” It included this clip quoting runoff experts that Halter surged while Lincoln remained flat.
From the memo:
Not only did Senator Lincoln spend massive amounts of money attacking Lt. Gov. Halter, she enjoyed the benefits of negative television ads paid for by shadowy front groups from outside Arkansas. One of those groups, Americans for Job Security, spent $1.5 million in less than two weeks running a negative TV ad against Halter that was widely condemned as both untrue and offensive. Also entering the fray on her behalf was the United States Chamber of Commerce with a television spot supporting the incumbent.
Clearly, we have the momentum but we will continue to have to battle against the considerable forces brought to bear by the insiders and special interest groups that are trying to stop us.
The TPM Poll Average of this race has narrowed dramatically, putting Lincoln with 45.2 percent and Halter with 45.1 percent. Check it out: