Two term Senator Blanche Lincoln (D Ark) is in the political fight of her life, trying to triangulate between the Scylla of the Left and the Charybdis of the Right.
She is a moderate Democrat, an independent thinker who does not always follow the party line.
The assumption has been that she would lose in November to a conservative Republican.
She might not get there because in this year of anti-incumbency; she faces a well-financed challenge from the left in the Democratic primary.
She won the primary on May 18 by a 45%-42% margin over Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, but because Arkansas requires a clear majority, the two face off again on June 8.
Conservatives have labeled her “Bailout Blanche.”
Many are viewing the contest as a divisive intraparty battle, similar to that being raised between establishment Republicans and The Tea Party in Republican contests.
I think it’s more nuanced than that, since her opponents, especially the large unions, are politically very sophisticated. They would undoubtedly prefer a moderate Democrat, who would vote with them most of the time, to a conservative, anti-union Republican.
However, if the unions accept the conventional wisdom that she will lose in November, then she is politically expendable. The unions have abandoned her, using the primary to send a message to Democratic candidates everywhere: Support us or we will take you out in the primaries. Labor rarely endorses opponents of Democratic incumbents in primaries, so their support for Halter is a seismic shift. MoveOn.com has also heavily supported her opponent.
We are witnessing raw politics in action.
They have decided that she is politically expendable.
They are using her to reaffirm that the key to victory in Democratic primaries throughout the nation goes through the union halls, especially the public employees unions. Union members have a high turnout rate in these races, just as conservatives control Republican primaries, resulting in a polarization of our legislative politics.
One of Senator Lincoln’s sins in the union eyes was that she opposed their card check proposal. She was also ambivalent on President Obama’s healthcare bill, before finally voting for it.
When Lieutenant Governor Halter announced his campaign in March, 4 unions disclosed that they had each pledged $1 million to his campaign. The unions are AFSCME, SEIU, the communications workers and the steelworkers.
Their pronouncements show their real motives.
Gerald McIntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) stated “regardless of your past affiliation, if you’re not with us, you are against us.”
The AFL-CIO said its decision to oppose Senator Lincoln should send a powerful message to other Democrats who fall out of step with unions.
Her political assets is that she is in the middle and that She currently serves as Chair of the Senate Agricultural Committee, an important representation for a large agricultural state. Former Arkansas Governor and President Bill Clinton has been actively campaigning for her, and President Obama has recorded an ad on her behalf.
The unions and MoveOn.com poured $5 million into Halter’s campaign in the weeks before the May primary, and may be spending as much in the days leading up to next Tuesday’s vote.
Her major financial supporter right now, irony of irony in Democratic primaries, is the Chamber of Commerce. She has been the largest beneficiary of oil and gas donations in recent years, not exactly great timing in terms of the BP oil blowout.
Whether or not Senator Lincoln survives June 8 and November, this election will send a message. If she survives, then she should become a truly independent voice in the senate.