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Arkansas Sen. Lincoln Faces Challenge From Left

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Arkansas Sen. Lincoln Faces Challenge From Left

Arkansas Sen. Lincoln Faces Challenge From Left

Arkansas Sen. Lincoln Faces Challenge From Left

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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One of the Senate incumbents fighting for her political life this week is Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. The two-term Democrat faces a primary challenge from the left. Arkansas Times editor Max Brantley tells host Guy Raz about the challenges Lincoln faces on primary day Tuesday — and beyond.

GUY RAZ, host:

Now in Arkansas, the two-term Democrat, Senator Blanche Lincoln, faces a challenge from the left. She supported the Bush administration's tax cuts and opposed a public option for health care. And many Democrats in the state hold that against her.

Senator BLANCHE LINCOLN (Democrat, Arkansas): Clearly they're targeting me and have said that, you know, they - I'm an example. If anybody else dare be independent and, you know, not follow 100 percent of the way, then they're going to get the same treatment I've gotten.

RAZ: Lincoln's primary opponent is Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. The winner of that race has to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, or there's a runoff between the top two finishers.

Max Brantley is the editor of the Arkansas Times. And he's in Little Rock today.


Mr. MAX BRANTLEY (Editor, Arkansas Times): Thanks very much.

RAZ: Let's start with Blanche Lincoln. Arkansas, of course, has a fairly strong tradition of backing centrist Democrats. You had, of course, Bill Clinton and the Pryors and Dale Bumpers. Is Blanche Lincoln facing the same kind of anger from the left that Republican incumbents elsewhere are facing from the right?

Mr. BRANTLEY: Well, she's facing some anger from the left, but I don't think it's nearly to the level that the Tea Party has brought to people on the right.

RAZ: So what is the issue for Blanche Lincoln? Why is this such a difficult fight for her?

Mr. BRANTLEY: Blanche Lincoln faces trouble because of a lack of enthusiasm. She has been not only a centrist, which is not a problem, but she hasn't been home much. She hasn't tended to the home fires very well, and she's running in the Democratic primary after all. And so these are voters who are more likely to adopt a progressive point of view. And I think they were open to some of the appeal that Bill Halter brought from a more populist point of view.

RAZ: When did you start to see signs that Democratic voters might drop her for Bill Halter?

Mr. BRANTLEY: You know, I think a lot of Democratic voters haven't made up their mind. I was at a picnic yesterday with about 50 extremely progressive Democratic voters who will vote this week, and they're still undecided.

They haven't dropped her, but they haven't adopted Bill Halter either. And I think that's the key issue in this campaign is where do the last 15 percent of voters go. Whether they'll go for a third candidate just as a show of disapproval or else finally make a decision for one of the others is going to be the story of Tuesday.

RAZ: Does the fact that Blanche Lincoln voted for the health care bill, does that make her vulnerable?

Mr. BRANTLEY: What hurt her on health care was her moving back and forth on the issue. It contributed to the notion that she wasn't steadfast.

RAZ: Max, let's turn to the Republican side for a moment. The polls are pointing to Congressman John Boozman as the likely nominee for the Senate. Blanche Lincoln's seat, as you know, has been held by a Democrat all the way back to, I believe, 1879. Now if she wins the primary this week, can she expect to win easily in November?

Mr. BRANTLEY: Oh, no. Blanche Lincoln can't expect to win easily in November against anybody from the Republican field. But John Boozman, curiously enough, I think if he wins the primary, as most expect he will, is the best possible candidate she can face. He's a Washington insider with a voting record that oftentimes, on issues like spending, on earmarks, on the TARP bailout, matches her own. So it's not going to be quite as easy to beat her up as an insurgent Republican would be able to do.

RAZ: That's Max Brantley. He is the editor of the Arkansas Times. He joined me from his home in Little Rock.

Max Brantley, thanks.

Mr. BRANTLEY: You're welcome.

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