Arkansas Senate race a close call
By Peter Slevin
WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. - Even the pundits are stumped.
It's election day in Arkansas, where Democrats will choose between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter to defend a Senate seat that a Republican last occupied in 1879.
Who will win? Prognosticators admit they're just guessing.
Lincoln is a familiar name riding the advantages of incumbency, except incumbents are not viewed kindly by the electorate. She has the public backing of President Obama and one Bill Clinton, yet in the May 18 primary, 55 percent of voters chose someone else.
Halter is the self-styled insurgent who has benefited from an estimated $10 million in labor union advertising and the get-out-the-vote elbow grease of dozens of union members and liberal activists. But he only returned to Arkansas in 2005 and Lincoln ran well in three congressional districts that also feature Tuesday runoffs, which could boost her totals.
Showing that they consider victory within reach and defeat a possibility, Lincoln and Halter both packed their election day schedules with public appearances. Campaigning harder than she did before the primary, Lincoln expects to make eight appearances to Halter's six.
Halter's final election eve event was planned for 12:30 a.m. Tuesday at a pancake house in Conway, closing a day that began at 6:15 a.m. in Texarkana. He traveled several hundred miles by RV and hopped aboard a plane at one point to cover ground more quickly.
"Nobody outworks Bill Halter," Laura Chapin, his campaign spokesman, said. "If it was possible to shake the hand of every single voter in Arkansas, he would."
"I really think we benefit from a large turnout," Halter, 49, said during a stop in West Memphis, where he spoke to a local camera crew and worked a small group of diners at a Mexican restaurant. "Conventional wisdom is that if the incumbent winds up in a runoff, particularly one that didn't quite get to 45 percent of the vote, that's very good for the challenger."
Lincoln, 49, styles herself a thoughtful moderate, the rope in the Washington tug of war. Making an appearance at a West Memphis wallboard factory less than an hour before Halter powered through town, she told the plant manager, "We've covered 25 counties since Tuesday and it's all good."
Halter, however, held events in 26 counties in half the time -- a single 72-hour period that began Saturday morning. Although backed by progressive groups anxious to defeat Lincoln, he is paying particular attention to counties where he and conservative third-place primary finisher D.C. Morrison did particularly well.
Lincoln says she is undeterred.
"We're not going to lose. We're fighters," Lincoln said in an interview. "Arkansans have been very astute. I think they have also been willing to question. They know that there's a lot of misrepresentation out there of my record. There's a lot of money being spent on ads that are negative, and Arkansans are not negative people."
June 8, 2010; 7:59 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency | Tags: Arkansas Senate, Democrats, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, Republicans, Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Senate, election, primary
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