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One Arkansas voter, many reasons

By Peter Slevin
LITTLE ROCK -- Jeffery Speak warmed the heart of a weary candidate when he told Lt. Gov. Bill Halter that he had voted for him in last month's U.S. Senate primary and would do so again in Tuesday's runoff.

Halter smiled and thanked him before moving to the next table at Pancho's, a Mexican restaurant in West Memphis, two hours northeast of Little Rock. But as Speak later explained, his reasons for choosing Halter carried competing messages for the hard-charging Democrat.

"I've never been a fan of Blanche Lincoln. I think she's out of touch. I don't like the way she votes," said Speak, who thinks Lincoln focuses too much on farmers and was wrong to support the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Speak, who usually votes a straight Republican ticket, also saw another reason to vote for Halter.

"I want to get someone in there who I think the Republican has a better chance of beating," Speak said. Tuesday's winner will face Rep. John Boozman (R) on Nov. 2.

As Speak sees it, Halter is less known than Lincoln and could suffer in November for the support he gets from national labor unions and liberal groups, including and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which helped the Halter campaign make 55,000 telephone calls Monday. Lincoln has argued that Halter's national support makes him less authentically Arkansan, and vulnerable to attack.

Speak represents a key group of voters whom Halter has successfully wooed with an aggressive campaign pitch focused on middle class frustration with Washington. At 49, he says, "I feel 70." He returned to school after his lighting fixture company lost business to overseas manufacturers. He works as a hospital nurse in Jonesboro.

He believes the economic deck is stacked against small-business owners and the working class.

"When we needed a bailout, where was it? I worked my whole life in that business," said Speak, who is struggling to make his mortgage payments but has gotten no relief from his bank. "I want to stay in my house. I'm not a deadbeat. I work.

"We're trying," Speak said, "but we need help."

Speak said there is a "strong possibility" that he will vote for Boozman in November, although he then checked himself and added, "But I'm kind of changing."

In Tuesday's contest, meanwhile, his plan to vote for Halter is firm.

"Absolutely. And my 19-year-old son and my wife," Speak said. "You can book 'em."

By Peter Slevin  |  June 8, 2010; 11:37 AM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency , South  
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