Fearless Forecast for Arkansas

Picking the winners in most of today’s primary contests is easy, according to the polls.  Much more interesting, though, is reading the tea leaves and trying to gauge what the results mean – specifically in Arkansas.

As mentioned after the Democrat primary was sent to a runoff weeks ago, Bill Halter’s challenge to Sen. Blanche Lincoln is not about her standing with Arkansas’s non-existent liberal base.  It does reflect that many Arkansans feel disenchanted, and the word on the street is that this malaise will bring Halter to victory.

Lincoln has tried to fight back by painting Halter as the puppet of national left-wing interests, working through the most famous Arkansas politician in history:

Bill Clinton, a Lincoln supporter, has gotten in on the act as well, appearing at a Little Rock rally last week and now in a television commercial in which he decries the influence of national unions on the race. “This is about using you and manipulating your votes,” the former president says. “If you want to be Arkansas’ advocate, vote for somebody who will fight for you.”

Clinton then got on a plane and flew back to either New York or Washington D.C., the two places he has lived for the past 17 years since he was elected President and his wife was elected as a Senator from a state that is not Arkansas.

But despite the idea that Halter is “too liberal” for Arkansas, that could dramatically help Democrats’ chances of keeping this seat.

Halter isn’t campaigning to the left of Lincoln in state, but he does benefit from left-wing energy from out of state.  Much like Scott Brown’s insurgent campaign, Halter’s website allows anyone to chip in with GOTV phone callsDonations are still pouring in, too.  That won’t subside in the coming months, as liberal activists sense the chance to basically turn a seat from a squishy vote to a solid vote on their key issues.  If Halter can continue to enjoy the fruits of national energy without alienating Arkansas voters, he will be a much more formidable candidate than Lincoln – who, despite the advantage of incumbency, would not have enjoyed those benefits.

The reality of anti-incumbentism

Many of the analysts have been trying paint this week’s elections with a very broad brush as general examples of popular unrest with Washington, D.C.  While true in part, this overlooks an important fact: each race that happened this week happened in a unique set of circumstances.

Pennsylvania Democrats did not repudiate the concept of incumbency when they cast their vote for a sitting Member of Congress; they did repudiate Arlen Specter.  Specter was not a Democrat, as Joe Sestak so successfully pointed out:

Similarly, the idea that Sen. Blanche Lincoln is “too conservative” for Arkansas Democrats doesn’t hold water, either.  The state has a long-standing strong history of dumping incumbent Senators in primaries.  And Lt. Governor Bill Halter’s national appeal to liberal special interests helped his campaign infrastructure, but it didn’t necessarily win him votes:

The darling of national liberals and labor unions got powered into a Democratic U.S. Senate runoff in Arkansas on Tuesday by the support of good ol’ boys in South Arkansas who either didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t care, both entirely plausible… Halter waltzed into a runoff using liberal money and a conservative backlash.

There is a strong undercurrent of unrest with national elected officials, but that alone doesn’t win an election.  That spirit may have manifested itself in similar way in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, with incumbent Senators underperforming, but it came about for different reasons.