Sunday, August 01, 2010

Arkansas U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Arkansas U.S. Senate

August 1, 2010
93 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

The political realignment of the last few decades has turned many former Southern Democrat states into Republican bastions. However, many of them have continued to favor Democrats for local or state offices, while being more reluctant to send that party to Washington D.C., to serve in Congress with more liberal members of the national party. Still though, Arkansas Democrats have shown strength in recent years, with both U.S. Senators as well as three out of four House Members belonging to that party. The winds of change appear to be blowing though the state though, as the GOP hopes to take the majority of the state's Congressional delegation.

Chief among those races is the contest for the U.S. Senate. As recent as early 2009, two-term incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln was considered popular and a heavy favorite for reelection. Since then though, the unpopularity of the Obama Administration, and resentment against her, by the left in her own party, have taken her political fortune into a very negative place, and while she had a triumph at the polls already this year, most now expect her to be headed for a pretty solid defeat.

By being reluctant to support some of the President's more unpopular agenda items, and particularly angering labor unions, Lincoln found herself being challenged in her party on the left by the state's Lt. Governor Bill Halter. This primary challenge came as Republicans looked more and more serious about winning the state, and many felt that another Democrat would be more formidable than Lincoln, or in the opinion of many liberal activists and blogger types around the country, that a more "genuine" Democrat should at least be nominated, even if in a losing cause.

Lincoln came in first in the state's May primary, but as it was a three-way contest, fell short of a majority of the vote and was put into a June runoff against Halter. Even though the third place candidate was an unabashed conservative, who had little in common with Halter, the conventional wisdom held that in such an anti-incumbent political environment, the challenger would finish off Lincoln right then and there. However, Lincoln managed to defeat Halter in the runoff. While the Obama Administration was technically behind Obama as the incumbent, it was the campaigning of native son Bill Clinton that likely did a lot to put the Senator over the top. Lincoln and her supporters were thrilled to have avoided lame-duck status, but that has done little to change her now low statewide approval ratings and vulnerability in a general election. Liberals and labor unions around the country spent heavily to defeat her, in an ultimately futile attempt, and the wounds of such a battle continue to linger and are obviously doing nothing to aid Lincoln's chances in November.

As the Senator appeared more vulnerable, a very large GOP field emerged, that included businessmen and state legislators. Gradually, polls showed those candidates getting closer and closer to the well-known incumbent, and then moving ahead of her. Most of those Republicans would have been considered general election favorites at that point, but the opportunity ultimately was too great to pass up for the state's top ranking elected Republican. Congressman John Boozman, who represents the only traditionally GOP part of the state, entered the race last among the Republicans, and immediately became the frontrunner. While Lincoln was forced to face Halter in a June runoff, Boozman's totals in May surpassed 50 percent and gave him the nomination in that round of voting.

In 1998, Lincoln captured the open Senate seat by defeating Boozman's older brother Fay, who has since passed away. This year though, the Republican Congressman has a huge lead, and because of intraparty turmoil, and the reluctance of Arkansas to send a Democrat to Washington to side with the national party, the race is one of the prime pickup opportunities anywhere in America. The most recent poll out of the state shows Boozman leading Lincoln by an overwhelming 60-35 margin. The Democrat, as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee can boast of influence and should be very well-funded. This is simply the wrong state and wrong year for her to be running though. The margin by which she is likely to lose her seat in the Senate will be comparable to the inevitable defeat of Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania four years ago.

Boozman campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 0 D, 4 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 40 D, 27 R