Arkansas senate primary: The union effort to elect Bill Halter
The Post has reporters in three states covering Tuesday's elections. Read the feeds on the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, the Pennsylvania 12th District special election, the Kentucky Republican Senate primary. Also see Monday's feeds on: the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, the Pennsylvania 12th District special election, the Kentucky Republican Senate primary, and the Arkansas Senate Democratic primary.
Updated 9:15 p.m.
By Peter Slevin
LITTLE ROCK - Willie Holmes moved to Arkansas last year to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) on the union membership bill known as card check. He lost, but stayed to sway her vote on health care reform.
That did not go his way, either, but Holmes is still here. On Tuesday, he sat with four colleagues in the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 155 union hall and waited for the votes to roll in. He was hoping that, this time, Lincoln herself would fall.
Holmes is a field director for Working America, an AFL-CIO operation that played a big role in keeping Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) competitive with Lincoln, a well-known and well-financed incumbent.
"If people say they're voting for Blanche Lincoln," Holmes said, "we try to change their mind."
Working America started eight weeks ago with six organizers. At its peak, the group sent 45 paid workers a day to knock on doors, Holmes said. In all, the group spoke to about 90,000 people in 27 towns and sent 1.75 million pieces of pro-Halter mail.
The pairing of the Service Employees International Union and the Communications Workers of America reached another 85,400 prospective voters who agreed to discuss the Senate campaign, SEIU national political director Jon Youngdahl said.
SEIU, which has only 1,000 members in the state, spent more than $1.5 million, including a $1 million television buy, Youngdahl said. The national AFL-CIO spent $3 million or more on Halter's behalf, spokesman Eddie Vale said.
"People didn't realize that they had a choice," said Gaelynn Dooley, 26, a Working America field director. " 'Well, have you heard about Bill Halter?' 'Oh, then I'm with him.' "
"For us," Dooley said, "it's an affirmation that people really feel they can affect how their government is run."
7:27 p.m.: Blanche Lincoln, provisional voter
By Emily Kotecki
When Sen. Blanche Lincoln sought to cast her vote Tuesday morning in the standard election day photo op, she got a surprise. Since she had requested that an absentee ballot to be sent to her home in Virginia, she was only allowed to fill out a provisional ballot, which many not be counted until after the race has been called.
"Sen. Lincoln requested an absentee ballot in the event she would be called to Washington for critical votes," Lincoln campaign spokesman Katie Laning Niebaum explained. "Pulaski County Court Clerk Pat O'Brien confirms this is not uncommon among voters who are unsure of their status on Election Day. Senator Lincoln and her husband are happy to cast provisional ballots in person at their home precinct today."
1:46 p.m. Lincoln supporter calls Halter a 'jerk'
By Peter Slevin
LITTLE ROCK -- AFL-CIO. MoveOn.org. SEIU. Daily Kos. Democracy for America.
For all the outside groups backing the primary challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), none of it would be possible without the particular ambition of Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D), who saw Lincoln's vulnerability as his path to higher office.
Halter, who campaigned through the night before voting early Tuesday in North Little Rock, is a man in a hurry. He returned to Arkansas in 2005 with the sole purpose of seeking his political future. Although he had been absent for 20 years, he jumped into the Democratic primary for governor.
It did not go well.
The trouble was that Mike Beebe, a popular attorney general who had patiently climbed the ranks, was already in the race. Halter quickly realized he couldn't win and shifted his sights to the lieutenant governor's office, but the episode alienated Democratic leaders, who see a reprise in his decision to challenge to Lincoln.
"He's just a natural-born jerk," Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), a Lincoln supporter, said in an interview this week. "He's got a gene that thankfully not everybody gets."
Yet Halter won the 2006 lieutenant governor's race with 57 percent of the vote in a crowded field. Then, operating from an office with little power, he championed a constitutional amendment to create a state lottery to fund college scholarships -- and won.
One of the intriguing angles in Tuesday's primary voting is the disconnect between Halter's unpopularity among the Democratic political establishment and his fierce determination to put together a coalition of voters and take the prize anyway.
"I think he makes a darn good candidate," Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas AFL-CIO, said in March, soon after Halter challenged Lincoln. Recalling the 2006 campaign, he said, Halter "was running against the old boys club. He came in and beat 'em all. He related to the people. He listened."
Halter and Lincoln, born exactly two months apart in 1960, have very different campaign styles. He moves faster, talks faster, drives his message relentlessly. She moves at a more comfortable pace, tends toward understatement and enjoys a lifetime of political friendships across the state.
In the 25 hours before the polls opened Tuesday, Halter raced through 20 events across the state, from El Dorado through Little Rock to Jonesboro and across to Fayetteville and Fort Smith before heading back to the capital for a series of appearances stretching past dawn.
Lincoln and her husband Steve -- an obstetrician-gynecologist whose practice is in Fairfax, Va. -- attended four events on Monday in rural eastern Arkansas, where she spent two terms as a member of Congress in the 1990s. She ended her day at an afternoon fish fry in Paragould.
In their third debate, held here last week at the Clinton School of Public Service, Halter repeatedly took the offensive, delivering a pointed and polished performance.
It was at the Clinton School in March that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said of Lincoln, "It's one thing to be a conservative Democrat. It's another thing to act like you don't want to be a Democrat at all."
Lincoln, with far more money in the bank than Halter at the end of the last quarter, is counting on a boost from her recent Wall Street reform proposals and radio ads cut by President Obama and a well-known former president and governor named Bill Clinton. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running television ads on her behalf.
In Halter's case, although he is running to Lincoln's left, the distance between the candidate and the political establishment does not appear to be ideological. While progressives and labor unions have dispatched footsoldiers and poured millions of dollars into the campaign, there is nothing in his record or his campaign to suggest that he is the next Ted Kennedy.
"I'm conservative on some issues and I'm progressive on others," he told The Washington Post's Phillip Rucker last month.
Halter has trailed Lincoln in the polls since he entered the race on March 1. He said he hopes for a clear victory over Lincoln, but his campaign would be thrilled if D.C. Morrison, the little-known third candidate in the race, draws enough votes to force a June 8 Lincoln-Halter runoff.
"If you wind up in a runoff with an incumbent Democratic senator who's been in the Congress for 16 years," Halter said, "it'd be hard to characterize that as anything other than a victory for us."
May 18, 2010; 1:46 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Election , 44 The Obama Presidency , Democratic Party , Election Day
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